Top Ga. elections official predicts U.S. Senate runoff

Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock are neck-and-neck
Georgia's U.S. Senate race between Herschel Walker, left, and Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock appears headed for a runoff on Dec. 6.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Georgia's U.S. Senate race between Herschel Walker, left, and Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock appears headed for a runoff on Dec. 6.

A top Georgia election official predicted the state’s U.S. Senate race would go into overtime as Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, on Wednesday morning each remained short of the 50% benchmark to win the race outright.

Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office, said in a tweet that while votes still need to be counted, “we feel it is safe to say there will be a runoff for the U.S. Senate here in Georgia slated for December 6.”

With nearly 97% of the vote counted, Walker and Warnock remained separated by about a single percentage point — or slightly more than 35,000 votes out of 3.9 million cast.

Walker’s campaign manager, Scott Paradise, seemed to acknowledge a runoff was imminent tweeting, “time to go to work.”

Meanwhile, Warnock’s camp noted that he had pulled in more votes than Walker.

“And whether we need to work all night, through tomorrow, or for four more weeks, we will do what we need to and bring this home,” he tweeted.

Georgia was one of four Senate races — along with Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin — that remained too close to call and which could ultimately determine the balance of power in the chamber.

Going into Election Day, polls had pegged the race essentially a tie, and that proved true as the results came in and the lead seesawed back and forth.

Walker trailed his fellow Republican, Brian Kemp, who cruised to reelection over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the race for governor, suggesting a number of Georgians split their votes, casting ballots for Warnock and Kemp.

In a brief speech just before midnight, Warnock urged supporters to “keep the faith.”

“We know how much is at stake in this election,” he said. “So, thank you for being with me. And I’m grateful that we are together every step of the way. And if you can hang in here for just a little while longer, we’ll come back and say some more.”

Walker also put in a short appearance at his own election party and quoted the movie “Talladega Nights.”

“I’m like Ricky Bobby. I don’t come to lose,” he said. Like Warnock, he told the crowd to “hang in there a little longer.”

For Georgia — and particularly Warnock — the path ahead looks all too familiar.

Less than two years ago, all eyes were on the state as Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff forced a pair of GOP incumbents into twin runoff races. Narrow wins by Warnock and Ossoff in those contests handed control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats.

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker Walker cited the movie "Talladega Nights” at his election party Tuesday in encouraging his supporters to hang on. “I’m like Ricky Bobby. I don’t come to lose,” he said. (Hyosub Shin /

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock urged his backers to "keep the faith" on Tuesday, as his race with Republican Herschel Walker appeared headed for a runoff. “We know how much is at stake in this election,” Warnock said. “So, thank you for being with me. And I’m grateful that we are together every step of the way." (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

A marquee matchup

From the start, the race had star power, pitting a legendary Georgia football star with near-universal name recognition against the pastor of the most storied church in the civil rights struggle. It also made history, marking the first time Georgia voters nominated two Black candidates for the U.S. Senate.

But Warnock and Walker ran very different races that exposed sharp disagreements on the most pressing political divides, starting with President Joe Biden’s record.

Walker tried to turn the race into a referendum on the president, tying Warnock every chance he could to Biden. Warnock, on the other hand, steered clear of Biden and aimed to strike a contrast with Walker in a hunt for swing voters.

For most of the campaign, Warnock focused on kitchen table issues. He touted votes for a sweeping infrastructure funding bill, and a federal climate and health care measure that will lower prescription drug costs and cap insulin prices for those on Medicare.

He also lobbied Biden to push through debt relief for college students, describing how government programs such as Head Start and Pell Grants helped him get his degree.

Walker said he would not have backed those measures because they were rife with overspending, but he issued few specifics on what legislation he would support.

Instead, he hammered away at inflation and crime, and he also used culture war issues to energize his supporters. He railed against allowing transgender athletes to compete in girls sports and the use of gender pronouns.

As Warnock tried to stay above the fray, Walker’s campaign careened through a series of scandals. The Republican’s long history of embellishments, falsehoods and exaggerations emerged in a barrage of news stories involving his businesses, charity work and claims that he worked in law enforcement.

Going into the race, it was known that Walker’s ex-wife had accused him of violence, holding a gun to her head and choking her. Cindy Grossman made the claims in 2008 interviews with ABC News and CNN. (Walker has not addressed her claims directly but said he went through a struggle with mental illness.)

But as the campaign progressed, The Daily Beast reported that Walker, who has frequently talked about his son Christian, had three other children he had not previously acknowledged.

Two women also came forward to say that after long-term romantic relationships with Walker, he had pressured them to have abortions after they became pregnant.

Neither used her name, but one appeared on “Good Morning America” and said she felt “threatened” by Walker. The other also has a child with him after refusing to have a second abortion.

Walker has denied the allegations, which undercut his calls for an outright ban on abortion even in the case of rape or incest.

As his campaign plunged into turmoil, Walker’s oldest son Christian lambasted him on social media, saying he was violent and not the “family man” he pretended to be.

But Walker seemed to find his footing following a stronger than expected debate performance in Savannah on Oct. 14.

While Walker stumbled over some issues — suggesting that everyone had access to health care and that eating better would help those who use insulin — he managed to land several jabs at Warnock that left a positive impression on some GOP voters who had been skeptics of the former football star.

In recent days, Warnock leaned into attacks against Walker, saying his treatment of women and lack of knowledge on the issues prove he is “not fit” to serve in the Senate.

“I don’t take any pleasure in talking about these things,” Warnock said. “I’m a pastor, and I have sat in my office with women who have been victimized by domestic violence. And I can’t ignore this.”

A costly race

The race attracted big-name surrogates throughout.

Warnock got a boost when former President Barack Obama headlined a rally with him and the rest of the Democratic ticket Oct. 28. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley were mainstays on the trail for Walker.

Notably absent from the Walker lineup: former President Donald Trump, who encouraged Walker to run. Trump, who hosted two fundraisers for Walker at his Mar-a-Lago home, was seen as too polarizing.

Warnock won a special election in 2021 to fill out the remainder of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term, so he had to begin running again as soon as he was sworn into office. He didn’t waste time.

He has been the most prolific fundraiser this campaign cycle, collecting more than $115 million — triple what Walker brought in and some $30 million more than fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, who ranked No. 2.

Outside groups also poured tens of millions into the state, fueling a blitz of ads. Overall, ad spending hovered around $250 million, putting it in contention with Pennsylvania to be the most expensive contest in the nation this cycle.

November 8, 2022 Fulton County: Voters getting their  ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th Street NE in Atlanta. Voters hit the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022 for Election Day that was expected to bring high turnout to over 2,400 polling places across Georgia, where voters will cast ballots on touchscreens that print out ballots. Then results will begin to pour in soon after polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday. State law requires runoffs when no candidate receives over 50% of the vote, which can occur in races with Democratic, Libertarian and Republican candidates. According to last yearÕs voting law, runoffs would be held four weeks after Election Day, on Dec. 6. Previously, runoffs were scheduled nine weeks after Election Day. (John Spink /


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All about turnout

A runoff will attract tens of millions of dollars for a new deluge of ads as the candidates scramble to get their voters back to the polls. Unlike Georgia’s nine-week runoff in 2021, which stretched over both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, this year the window is only four weeks.

That creates its own challenges as both camps will need to hit the ground running.

Warnock has a money edge. He has $10.5 million in cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign filings, and Walker $5.4 million.

Outside groups that have been pumping cash into Georgia for months will supplement those totals.

But experts say runoffs aren’t about changing hearts and minds. Instead, it’s all about turnout.