Every statewide Republican except Walker cleared 50% of the vote Tuesday night. Kemp swamped Stacey Abrams by 9 percentage points, and finished with about 200,000 more votes than Walker.
Of those, 140,000 came from Georgians who split their ticket and also voted for Warnock for Senate. The rest either picked the Libertarian or left the race blank. While Walker almost consolidated GOP voters, he didn’t get them all.
Every reporter covering this race has talked to those split-ticket voters, and maybe you’re even one of them. The ones who think Kemp did his job well as governor, but did not want to send Walker to the United States Senate.
Why could that be? Take your pick. It Walker’s fitness for the job, since he lived in Texas for the past 40 years and never voted in any U.S. election until 2020. Or maybe Walker’s admission in the past that he held a gun to his then-wife’s head. Or possibly the other children we didn’t know were out there — or the abortions that two women have accused Walker of forcing them to have.
More likely, the split-ticket voters may simply not have connected to the race Walker has run up to this point — far away from Kemp’s measured, sunny outlook and economic focus, knee-deep instead in warnings about transgender athletes and a racist dystopia if Democrats remain in charge.
Walker’s Kemp-free pre-election rally was at an indoor gun club, where Walker pledged to be “that warrior for God” and Sen. Lindsey Graham said President Joe Biden’s agenda “makes us all want to throw up.”
Radio personality Clay Travis promised, “Reverend Raphael Warnock is about to get flattened tomorrow,” and said to the media covering the event, “I want you to fall down in the fetal position and whimper and cry because Herschel Walker is gonna run right over your story and I can’t wait to enjoy it all.”
The gun club crowd loved the show, but which suburban moms were those guys talking to? Kemp appealed to those moms and won. Walker and his crew didn’t even try.
While Walker’s campaign events eventually started to feel like a CrossFit workout gone awry, Warnock appeared in front of smaller, more sedate groups. He offered a moderated message that stayed far away from Abrams’ brand of progressive promises.
He talked more about working with GOP Texas Sen. Ted Cruz than he ever did about Biden. And while Walker went on about keeping boys out of girls’ sports, Warnock promised to keep politicians out of women’s hospital rooms.
Warnock finished ahead of Walker by about 35,000 votes as of Wednesday, powered ahead of the Republican by the ticket-splitters who picked Kemp, too.
The two now go to a runoff on Dec. 6, with control of the U.S. Senate possibly at stake. Warnock was in the same place last year in his runoff against then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
On the day before the election, former President Donald Trump jetted into a frozen north Georgia airfield to hold a massive rally for Loeffler. But he spent more time venting his rage at the Republicans who disappointed him, namely Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffenspeger, than making the case for a Republican Senate.
“They say they’re Republicans. I really don’t think they are. They can’t be,” Trump said of Kemp and the secretary.
He guaranteed he’d run a primary opponent against Kemp, which he did. And he predicted that the governor and Raffensperger would eventually lose their jobs because of their disloyalty to him, which they most definitely did not.
Walker is the one remaining Trump recruit in Georgia with a race still ahead of him. He has a real chance of victory because of the Democrats’ dismal performance on the economy and the hero he was to millions in the state as a teenage football phenomenon.
A boost from Kemp, through joint campaign events and the governor’s own extensive field operation, could push Walker across the finish line. Another made-for-tv rally with Trump would have a predictable end.
The governor has said again he’d like to help Walker in the runoff. The question is whether Walker will take a different path to election day this time around.