Georgia Senate Runoff Pits Democrat Warnock Against Trump-Backed Walker

Local residents wait in line to cast their ballot during the runoff U.S. Senate election between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker in Atlanta, Georgia, December 6, 2022. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

ATLANTA 6 (Reuters) – Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker faced off on Tuesday in a final election that will determine whether Democrats can expand their razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate and solidify Georgia as a battleground state in the next presidential election.

The race will also be a last test of Donald Trump’s clout with voters as he seeks the Republican nomination to challenge President Joe Biden in 2024. The former president had a mixed record in his most competitive endorsements for Congress in the November midterm elections, including Walker.

The runoff set early voting records in Georgia in a race that has become the most expensive of the 2022 U.S. midterm election season, with more than $400 million spent so far. The contest went to a runoff after neither candidate secured 50% of the vote in the Nov. 8 first round.

A victory by Warnock would give Democrats a 51-seat majority in the 100-seat Senate, which would make it slightly easier to advance Biden’s nominees for judicial and administrative posts.

While most legislation would still require Republican support, Biden’s Democratic Party will be able to more easily pass bills that are high priorities.

The individual power of Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to block Democratic-led legislation, as they have done in the past, would be diluted if Warnock voted with the rest of his caucus. If Manchin and Sinema, who don’t always agree on policy, vote together they could still stall Democratic initiatives.

A Walker win would mean that the Senate is right back to the 50-50 split of the past two years.

On a wider scale, a Warnock victory could solidify Georgia as more of a battleground for Democrats in presidential elections. It also would be another midterm defeat at the polls for a loyal protege of Trump, who spurred Walker to run.

The U.S Justice Department said it was sending federal monitors to polling places to ensure the state complies with federal voting rights laws. The department has previously expressed concerns about possible violations of federal voting rights in Georgia.

Polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern time. At least 1.87 million people cast their votes before Election Day, equal to 47% of the Nov. 8 turnout.

Analysts say those votes likely tilted Democratic, which will require strong Election Day turnout by Walker’s Republican supporters.

Warnock is the pastor of the historic Atlanta church where slain U.S. civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Both Warnock and Walker are Black.

Warnock edged Walker 49.44% to 48.49% in November, even as Republican Governor Brian Kemp and other statewide Republican candidates easily won re-election.

Republicans won a narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the Nov. 8 election, but fell short of the “red wave” that some in the party had forecast.

This is the third Senate runoff in two years in the closely divided state – and the second for Warnock, who first won the seat in a runoff in January 2021.

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