Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., won reelection to the U.S. Senate in Georgia, defeating Republican Herschel Walker, Newsmax projected as of 9:48 p.m. ET on Tuesday night.
With 95% of the estimated vote tallied, Warnock led by 50.73%-49.27% after Newsmax elections analysts called the race.
"Thank you, Georgia," Warnock tweeted. "We did it again."
A victory by Warnock gives Democrats a 51-seat majority in the 100-seat Senate, which would make it slightly easier to advance President Joe Biden's nominees for judicial and administrative posts. Most legislation would still require Republican support.
Also, a 51-49 Democrat advantage in the Senate would mean that the party would no longer have to negotiate a power-sharing deal with Republicans and will not have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris to break as many tie votes.
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 Nov. 8.
At least 1.9 million people cast their votes before Election Day, equal to 47% of the Nov. 8 turnout, and state election official Gabe Sterling has said he expected 1 million more would vote Tuesday.
Analysts say the early votes likely tilted Democrat, which means Walker needed a strong Election Day turnout from his supporters to overcome the gap, which did not come.
In last month's election, Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast, but fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Walker, a football legend who first gained fame at the University of Georgia and later in the NFL in the 1980s, was unable to overcome a near 3-to-1 campaign spending advantage favoring the big-dollar Warnock.
Democrats' Georgia victory solidifies the state's place as a Deep South battleground two years after Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff won 2021 runoffs that gave the party Senate control just months after Biden became the first Democrat presidential candidate in 30 years to win Georgia. Voters returned Warnock to the Senate in the same cycle they reelected Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by a comfortable margin and chose an all-GOP slate of statewide constitutional officers.
"I'll work with anyone to get things done for the people of Georgia," Warnock, the state's first Black senator, said throughout his campaign, a nod to the state's historically conservative lean and his need to win over GOP-leaning independents and at least some moderate Republicans in a midterm election year.
Warnock, 53, paired that argument with an emphasis on his personal values, buoyed by his status as senior pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
Early and mail voting did not reach the same levels as years past, and it was likely the total number of votes cast would be less than the 2021 Senate runoff election. Voting rights groups point to changes made by state lawmakers after the 2020 election that shortened the period for runoffs, from nine weeks to four, as a major reason for the decline in early and mail voting.
Elections officials reported few problems processing early votes and tabulating ballots cast Tuesday, but there were some delays. In south Georgia's Lowndes County, two poll workers were in a car accident on the way to the county elections office with the memory cards from one precinct's polling machines. A Lowndes official said a member of the local elections board went to the accident site to retrieve the memory cards so tabulations could continue.
Atlanta voter Tom Callaway praised the Republican Party's strength in Georgia and said he had supported Kemp in the opening round of voting. But he said he cast his ballot for Warnock because he did not think "Herschel Walker has the credentials to be a senator."
"I didn't believe he had a statement of what he really believed in or had a campaign that made sense," Callaway said.
Warnock promoted his Senate accomplishments, touting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for Medicare patients. He hailed deals on infrastructure and maternal healthcare forged with Republican senators, mentioning those GOP colleagues more than he did Biden or other Washington Democrats.
Warnock distanced himself from Biden, whose approval ratings have lagged as inflation remains high. After the general election, Biden promised to help Warnock in any way he could, even if it meant staying away from Georgia. Bypassing the president, Warnock decided instead to campaign with former President Barack Obama in the days before the runoff election.
Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.