Georgia’s contest is one of three U.S. Senate races — along with Arizona’s and Nevada’s — that remained too close to call on Wednesday afternoon. That sets up a potential replay of 2021 when a pair of runoff races in Georgia became the center of national politics, ending with victories by Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
This year’s runoff will bring another onslaught of ads amid an election season that’s already smashed state midterm spending records, plus more intense media attention trained on the two campaigns and Georgia’s changing political dynamics. It will also trigger new attacks in a bitter rivalry.
The top aides to both candidates gave a taste of what’s to come Wednesday as they bickered online, though the back-and-forth paled in comparison with the jabs each of the candidates have thrown at one another.
Warnock campaign manager Quentin Folks shot first by saying Walker “significantly underperformed” in a political climate that benefited Republicans. Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise swung back: “More than 50% of Georgians voted against the incumbent that spent more than $100 million.”
On the campaign trail, the candidates have done far worse. After initially casting his rival as a “nice guy” who votes the wrong way, Walker now routinely labels Warnock a Marxist and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Warnock said his opponent is unfit to serve in office and blasts his pattern of “disturbing” behavior.
The condensed runoff cycle forces the candidates to rapidly rev up their efforts to raise cash, mobilize voters and hit the campaign trail. But the biggest factor that could shape the runoff campaign — whether the Georgia race will determine control of the Senate — is still up in the air.
If Georgia winds up deciding which party rules the Senate, Walker’s chances could get a boost. President Joe Biden’s approval ratings remain below 40% in Georgia, and polls indicate many GOP voters could look past their concerns with Walker to vote against Democratic control of the chamber.
But if control of the Senate is clearly decided for either party, it could better Warnock’s chances. Republicans would no longer be able to frame the race as a check on Democratic control, and GOP voters concerned about Walker’s personal issues may have less of a reason to turn out to vote.