On Tuesday the last outstanding Senate race will be decided in a run-off election between Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican ex-NFL star Herschel Walker.
In the general election, Warnock finished just ahead of his GOP challenger, 1,943,737 votes to 1,907,272 votes, or 0.9 percent. But thanks to a third-party challenger neither candidate was able to breach the 50 percent threshold and so the top two finishers compete again, per Georgia’s election law.
According to the latest polling Warnock is still running ahead – 52 to 48 percent according to the latest CNN poll.
Peach State residents have now endured another excruciating month of mud-slinging campaign ads to flood their airwaves as each candidate trades dirt on the other.
The race has been focused on two things – each candidate tying the other to their party’s national leaders and moral character attacks, with each shedding light on the other’s dicey history.
For Warnock, that means framing Walker as a fundamentally unserious Trump acolyte, and letting a slew of accusations relating to domestic violence and paying for abortions speak for themselves. For Walker, that means framing his opponent as too liberal for Georgia and tying him to President Biden’s agenda, which he blames for 40-year-high inflation, and going after his church’s murky charity operation.
Here’s what to know about the race:
Early voting turnout has been high, though likely won’t surpass 2021
Already more than 1.8 million have cast their ballots, either in person or absentee, during early voting.
That total surpassed those who cast ballots in runoffs in 2018 and 2016, the state data shows, though likely won’t surpass the ballots cast in 2021, when Warnock was locked in a race with then-GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff was taking on then- Sen. David Perdue.
Those races were to decide the fate of control in the Senate, while this year Democrats already hold the upper hand with 50 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris as a tie-breaker.
But the high turnout comes despite outcry over a 2021 election security bill signed by Gov. Brian Kemp that shrank the early voting timeframe from a minimum of 17 days to a minimum of five.
According to the latest polling Sen. Raphael Warnock, above, is still running ahead – 52 to 48 percent according to the latest CNN poll
Warnock, along with Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the Peach State since 2000 in a 2021 runoff
Who is Herschel Walker? The ex-NFL player and former University of Georgia star who Republicans at first kept their distance from
Walker was raised in Wrightsville, Georgia, a rural town of 2,000 people, the son of a Pentecostal pastor and one of seven. He quickly became the star of his high school football team.
His talent garnered him a spot on the University of Georgia football team, where he won a Heisman Trophy. He never graduated from the school, though he’s claimed otherwise, as he was scouted by the United States Football League and later the NFL.
Outside of football, Walker was also a member of the U.S. bobsled team at the 1992 Winter Olympics and from 2019-2020 served in the Trump administration as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.
The 60-year-old spent 20 years living in Texas before moving to the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta when he announced his campaign. He has at least four children with four different women.
Walker has spoken publicly about being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and has advocated for mental health awareness. In 2008 he wrote a book about his diagnosis, Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder, where he revealed he has a dozen different alternative personalities.
Walker was raised in Wrightsville, Georgia, a rural town of 2,000 people, the son of a Pentecostal pastor and one of seven
Outside of football, Walker was also a member of the U.S. bobsled team at the 1992 Winter Olympics and from 2019-2020 served in the Trump administration as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition
Who is Raphael Warnock? The Atlanta-area pastor vying for his first full term as senator
Born in Savannah, Georgia, Warnock often tells of how he grew up in public housing, the second-youngest of two Pentecostal pastors.
After graduating Morehouse College and Union Theological Seminary, Warnock eventually became a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which previously counted Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rep. John Lewis among its members.
Warnock has two children with his ex-wife who he was married to from 2016 until they separated in 2019.
Warnock, along with Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the Peach State since 2000 in a 2021 runoff. Now less than two years later he is forced to defend his seat and vie for his first full term in the Senate.
The candidates make an appeal to the Bible-thumping Deep South with differing religious and social justice messages
Both men were raised in the black church in the Deep South at the height of the civil rights movement and center their public persona on faith, while knocking the other in moral terms on matters like abortion, race, criminal justice and personal behaviors.
Warnock calls himself a ‘pastor in the Senate’ and has said voting is a kind of prayer.
Warnock, 53, often preaches a social justice-focused Christianity, quick to point out the black church’s roots in slavery and Jim Crow and talk about matters like institutional racism and call for government to step in and address inequities. He has a long history of preaching against racism from the pulpit.
‘We don’t like to talk about it in America. But you can’t heal a disease without a diagnosis. Without a diagnosis, there’s no prescription.’ Still, he urged: ‘Don’t give up on America.’
Walker, meanwhile, has suggested Warnock’s focus on racism shows that he is not patriotic.
‘Sen. Warnock believes America is a bad country full of racist people; I believe we’re a great country full of generous people,’ Walker declared in an ad in September.
Walker has said he has ‘dealt with racism my whole life,’ but told Axios in April how as a budding football star he was urged to join civil rights protests but decided against it.
‘Why don’t he get out of racism and learn redemption? Learn forgiveness. Learn to move on,’ Walker said of Warnock in a November Fox News interview.
Still, he points to society’s shortcomings, particularly the expansion of LGBTQ rights, a renewed focus on racism and ‘weak’ politicians who ‘don’t love this country.’
Walker’s faith references have focused largely on redemption, a message he hoped would resonate given the scandals he’s been caught up in in the past.
‘Let me acknowledge my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, because it’s said if you don’t acknowledge him, he won’t acknowledge you,’ Walker said at his only debate with Warnock. ‘When I come knocking, I want him to let me in.’
After accusations he tried to kill his ex-wife, Walker has said he is a new man cured of his mental illness and ‘redeemed by the grace of God.’
Who’s likely to have the upper hand in a run-off?
Over the past quarter century, Democrats in Georgia have almost always performed more poorly in runoff elections than they did in a general election. This could be because once the Libertarian candidate is out of the running, more of those votes go to the Republican.
That changed in 2020, when Democrats outperformed their general election results in the runoff, with Warnock and Ossoff beating out GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
But the logistics of the 2022 runoff are different than 2021, after the GOP-controlled Georgia legislature enacted an electoral overhaul last year. The time between the general election and the runoff was shortened from nine weeks to four, early voting is restricted and it is essentially impossible to register new voters during that period, a tactic Democrats heavily relied on in 2021.
Some worry that Trump announcing his 2024 run would turn the election into a referendum on him. Even his White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany urged him against it: ‘I think he needs to put it on pause, absolutely,’ she said last month.
Walker’s dicey past: Allegations of domestic violence and that he paid for abortions rock Walker’s campaign
In August, the Republican Accountability Project posted an ad highlighting a 2005 interview Walker’s ex-wife gave to ABC News.
‘His eyes would become very evil. the guns and knives. I got into a few choking things with him. The first time he held the gun to my head, he held the gun to my temple, and said he was gonna blow my brains out,’ Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, said in old footage cut into the ad. Walker married Grossman, his college sweetheart, in 1983 and the pair finalized their divorce in 2002.
In her 2001 divorce filing, Grossman accused Walker of ‘physically abusive and extremely threatening behavior.’ In 2005 a restraining order was imposed on Walker after Grossman’s sister swore in an affidavit that Walker told her he ‘unequivocally that he was going to shoot my sister Cindy and her [new] boyfriend in the head.’ The order resulted in a temporary gun-owning ban on Walker.
One month before the election Walker’s eldest son Christian, a conservative influencer, came out against him.
‘You’re not a ‘family man’ when you left us to bang a bunch of women, threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence … how DARE YOU LIE and act as though you’re some ‘moral, Christian, upright man’ … You’ve lived a life of DESTROYING other peoples lives.’
In June, the Daily Beast reported that he has three estranged, secret children.
Walker’s campaign then confirmed that the senate candidate- who has previously criticized absentee fathers in black communities – has a 10-year-old son, which he fathered out of wedlock and had to be taken to court over so the mother could receive child support.
The Daily Beast then said Walker confirmed he had a second secret son, aged 13, with a different woman, and an adult daughter too – meaning the Republican has four children instead of just 22-year-old Christian.
‘I hide my children because I don’t discuss them with reporters to win a campaign,’ Walker said.
Christian went on: ‘My favorite issue to talk about is father absence. Surprise! Because it affected me. … He has four kids, four different women. Wasn’t in the house raising one of them. He was out having sex with other women.’
On Oct. 3, the Daily Beast reported allegations from an ex-girlfriend that he pressured her to get an abortion and paid for it. The woman is the mother of another of Walker’s children, conceived years later in 2011, and she said he had tried to convince her to have an abortion then too.
On Oct. 26 a second woman came forward and claimed Walker pressured her into getting an abortion in 1993 after a years-long extramarital affair.
Walker denied the second allegation, calling it a ‘lie.’ Of the first allegation, he at first said he did not know the identity of the accuser and called it a politically motivated attack. Later, he changed his tune, admitting the accuser was the mother of one of his children but adding: ‘I’m not saying she did or didn’t have one [an abortion]. I’m saying I don’t know anything about that.’
Last week another ex-girlfriend, Cheryl Parsa, claimed Walker attacked her in a rage and is too mentally unstable to be a senator.
Parsa said she is speaking out because she is disturbed by the behavior Walker is exhibiting in campaign appearances and claims she’s noticed the tell-tale signs of an impending flare-up of the disorder.
‘He is not well,’ Parsa said. ‘And I say that as someone who knows exactly what this looks like, because I have lived through it and seen what it does to him and to other people. He cannot be a senator. He cannot have control over a state when he has little to no control of his mind.’
Warnock’s skeletons: Walker hits back at pastor’s ex-wife’s allegations that he ran over her foot, evicted residents from low-income housing over $25
In September, the Walker campaign released an ad entitled ‘What else is Warnock hiding?’ The ad used body camera footage from a police encounter after a fight between Warnock and his ex-wife Ouleye Ndoye where she accused him of running over her foot with his car outside their home.
In the clip, a distressed-looking Ndoye says that Warnock is a ‘great actor’ and asking to file a police report.
‘This man’s running for United States Senate, and all he cares about right now is his reputation,’ she tells the officer. ‘I’ve been very quiet about the way that he is for the sake of my kids and his reputation.’
She adds: ‘I’ve tried to keep the way that he acts under wraps for a long time, and today he crossed the line. So that is what is going on here. And he’s a great actor. He is phenomenal at putting on a really good show.’
Warnock claimed he did not run over her foot and police said they saw no outward signs of injury. The couple, who married in 2016 and divorced in 2020, had been arguing about getting Warnock to sign their two children’s passports so she could take them to her mother’s funeral in West Africa.
Warnock also came under fire after a Free Beacon report found that Ebenezer Church, where he is a senior pastor, evicted residents from a low-income housing building its charity arm runs during the pandemic for as little as $25.88 in overdue rent.
Meanwhile, Ebenezer pays Warnock a $7,417-per-month, tax-free housing allowance.
Georgia’s secretary of state has threatened to file a subpoena against the charity controlled by Warnock’s church for failing to cooperate with an investigation into its charity registration.
Warnock is the principal officer of the charity that owns 99 percent of the apartment building which allegedly has been plagued by filth and maintenance issues.
Walker, in turn, launched an ‘Evict Warnock Bus Tour’ ahead of the run-off.
Runoff campaign day one: Warnock launches fresh personal attacks on his opponent’s ‘character’ and ‘competence’
Warnock wasted no time lobbing personal attacks on Walker after it became clear he would have to try to fend him off again. The Atlanta-area pastor told a crowd in his home city on Thursday had demonstrated a ‘pattern of violence’ and had ‘no vision for the state.’
Warnock highlighted his opponent’s ‘disturbing history pattern of violence against women’ and ‘violence against his own family.’
‘This race is about competence, and it’s about character. When it comes to that, the choice could not be more clear between me and Herschel Walker,’ he added. ‘Some things in life are complicated. This ain’t one of them.’
Warnock also accused Walker of having ‘no vision for our state or for our country.’
‘Think about it. We’ve been running now for a little while, and he has yet to tell us what he actually wants to do,’ Warnock said. ‘And he claims that he has solutions. But he says he won’t share them because someone else might claim they came up with it. I’d explain that if I could.’
Observers recall GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s message of ‘candidate quality’
Georgia Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan offered a scathing post-mortem analysis of Walker, not mincing words even as the Senate majority hangs in balance.
‘It turns out Mitch McConnell knew what he was talking about with candidate quality,’ he said, referring to McConnell’s prediction in August that poor quality would impact the result.
Walker significantly underperformed the margins of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who easily won a second term with more than 53 percent of the vote.
‘A lot of Republicans like me are waking up this morning and thinking, ‘What could have been? What could have been if we had picked a better candidate that could have won with a margin like Brian Kemp?’
McConnell made waves in August when he sowed doubt about Republicans taking the Senate. ‘I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,’ he said.
Obamas wade into the race – Joe Biden stays far away
Michelle Obama made a rare campaign appearance to stump for Warnock on November 29, making two robocalls reminding Democrats to get out and vote, and Barack Obama held a rally for the senator days later.
Obama tore into Walker, with a jab at a previous bizarre musing he made during a campaign stop about wanting to be werewolf instead of a vampire.
The ex-president’s broader argument about the former football player-turned-politician was that there was ‘very little evidence that he has taken any interest, bothered to learn anything about, or displayed any kind of inclination toward public service, or volunteer work or helping people in any way,’ Obama said.
‘Seems to me he’s a celebrity who wants to be a politician,’ Obama remarked. ‘And we’ve seen how that goes. We’ve seen that before,’ he said, laughing.
And instead of traveling to Georgia, Biden went to Boston on Friday for a fundraiser, which he said was intended to help Warnock.
‘I’m going to Georgia today to help Sen. Warnock – not to Georgia – I’m going to help Sen. Warnock, I’m doing a major fundraiser up in Boston today for the, our next, continued Senate candidate, senator,’ Biden said Friday.
On Election Day Tuesday Biden will be in Arizona.