Sen. Raphael Warnock remains undefeated.
After being pushed to another runoff in November, the Democrat asked voters in Georgia to put him over the top “one more time” in December – and, once again, they delivered.
Since November 2020, Warnock has been the leading vote-getter in four consecutive Georgia Senate elections. But because of state law requiring statewide candidates to get a majority to win a general election, Warnock had to double the feat in both his 2020 special election and his 2022 bid for a full six-year term.
His victory in this head-to-head contest with Republican nominee Herschel Walker means Democrats will add to their already-secured Senate majority, with 51 seats to the GOP’s 49, and solidify the Peach State as a potentially decisive 2024 presidential battleground.
As the 2022 midterm cycle spins to its end, here are five takeaways from this final election night in Georgia.
Democrats had already clinched control of the Senate, with 50 seats secured last month, which would allow Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote as she does now. But winning a 51st seat, thanks to Warnock’s victory Tuesday, comes with important benefits for the Democrats running the Senate and for President Joe Biden’s administration.
The party will now enter 2023 with a true Senate majority – one that won’t require the power-sharing agreement that has been in place over the last two years in an evenly divided chamber. That outright majority means that Democrats will have the majority on committees, allowing them to advance Biden’s nominees more easily.
For example: The Senate Judiciary Committee, with its 22 members, will shift from a split of 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans to 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans. That removes a GOP procedural mechanism to slow down the confirmation of Biden’s judicial nominees.
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, face a reduced risk that a single senator can hold its priorities hostage, since the party can now afford to lose a vote. Harris, who has already cast the third-most tie-breaking votes of any vice president, and the most since John Calhoun nearly 200 years ago, would be less tied to Capitol Hill.
It’s also an early boost to Democrats ahead of a 2024 election in which the party will have to defend several seats in deep-red states, including West Virginia and Montana, to maintain its majority.
As long as former President Donald Trump remains an influential figure in Republican politics, Georgia is poised to be a crucial Election Day battleground – especially when federal offices are on the ballot.
If there was any doubt before Tuesday, it’s been erased now.
Walker was Trump’s hand-picked candidate to take on Warnock and he flamed out despite first running on a ticket with a popular Republican governor and then, this time, with that same governor’s express endorsement and support on the campaign trail.
Kemp’s inability to pull Walker over the finish line says less about him – or even Walker, a flawed candidate in any setting – than the state’s shifting partisan alignment. Changing demographics, an evolving economy and strategic, tenacious organizing by Democrats have made a beacon of the Old South a legitimate swing state.
On now to 2024.
After the 2020 election, Georgia Republicans passed a controversial law that, among other things, reduced the amount of time between a November election and potential runoff, creating a condensed timeline that narrowed the window for mail-in voters and reduced the number of days to vote early in-person.
It didn’t matter.
The Democratic turnout machine in Georgia over the past four weeks – with a running start that goes back years and owes heavily to the groundwork by Stacey Abrams and her allies – once again delivered in a hotly contested race that attracted tens of millions of dollars in spending by the campaigns and national organizations.
While the ultimate number of votes cast remains to be seen, early in-person turnout ahead of this year’s runoff was down from 2021. That’s because the new law reduced the period between votes from nine weeks to four. But it was still strong, with the state’s single-day early voting record repeatedly broken during the final week of pre-election day balloting.
Turnout was especially robust in key Democratic strongholds, including larger metro areas and the suburbs that have shaded blue following former President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Six years later, Georgia is not only a symbol of Trump’s apparent drag on the GOP, but a model for Democrats seeking to capitalize on it.
Trump tried to use the 2022 midterms to pack congressional majorities and statehouses with allies who owed their offices to Trump’s endorsement ahead of his third run for the White House. Instead, he backed a series of flawed, controversial candidates who lost races the GOP expected to win. Walker on Tuesday night joined a list that includes Blake Masters in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, as well as gubernatorial losers such as Kari Lake in Arizona, Tim Michels in Wisconsin, Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania.
No Republican presidential candidate had lost Georgia since 1992. But with Trump up for reelection, Democrats won the presidency in 2020 and both of the state’s Senate seats in 2021 runoffs. Then, this year, they won a Senate seat again, defeating a candidate pushed into the race by the former president.
The losses have immediate implications: Trump has already launched his 2024 presidential bid. Every loss by a Republican pushed by Trump is likely to enrage donors, embolden potential rivals and erode the confidence of GOP voters in Trump’s political potency.
The blame game that began four weeks ago will continue after Walker’s loss, and is likely to amplify calls for the GOP to turn elsewhere for leadership.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp kept his distance from Walker as he coasted to reelection in this year’s rematch with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams – winning 2.1 million votes, about 200,000 more than Walker won against Warnock in November.
After his victory, though, Kemp more fully embraced his party’s Senate nominee, despite the governor’s bad blood with Trump.
Kemp’s goal was to convince some of those tens of thousands of ticket-splitters to support the GOP nominee in the runoff. He appeared with Walker at rallies, cut television ads for the former University of Georgia football star and even loaned the get-out-the-vote operation that helped propel him to victory to a Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC to boost Walker.
It was a stark contrast from the approach taken by Trump, who held a tele-rally for Walker on the eve of the election but did little else to help in the runoff. And if Walker had won, it would have been Kemp that deserved a large share of the credit.
However, Georgia’s runoff proved a lesson that former President Barack Obama and, later, Trump, had to learn: Voters’ support often isn’t transferrable. And without Kemp on the ballot, many of the same moderate suburbanites who rejected Walker in November did so again in the runoff.