IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Raphael Warnock’s win over Herschel Walker is bigger than politics

It’s difficult to tell whether to attribute Warnock’s competitiveness to his political gifts — or to the gifts Republicans handed him.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Herschel Walker.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., defeated the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Herschel Walker.Getty Images; AP

In the Georgia race for U.S. Senate, Raphael Warnock was a very good candidate, and Herschel Walker was a particularly awful one. We don’t need the results of Tuesday’s runoff election to reach that conclusion.

And in a state that Democrats almost never win, Warnock did, adding to Democrats' lead in the Senate in the process. Given Georgia’s history, any kind of a nail-biter should be seen as a positive for Democrats and a negative for Republicans.

The fact that Walker, with his many deficits, was competitive in the first place is depressing for reasons that extend beyond mere politics.

Clearly, Georgia’s demographics are changing in ways that benefit Democrats. However, in 2020 and 2021, when Warnock forced Sen. Kelly Loeffler into a January 2021 runoff and then won it, his fortunes were believed to have been boosted by widespread exasperation with then-President Donald Trump. Then, they were boosted by Trump himself, who’d just lost to Joe Biden, and who may have helped drive down Republican turnout with his lie that Georgia’s elections were rigged against the GOP.

So did a Black Democrat win statewide election in a Deep South state on his own merits, or had he merely benefited from the existence of a uniquely unqualified Republican on the ballot? The 2022 election, we were told, would tell us so much more.

But Walker is also uniquely terrible. So the same question now applies. Can we attribute Warnock’s success to his political gifts, or to the gifts Republicans handed him?

Indeed, the fact that Walker, with his many deficits, was competitive in the first place is depressing for reasons that extend beyond mere politics. His ability to win over white voters highlights the kind of Black candidate white conservative voters in the South feel comfortable supporting, one willing to call himself a “c--n” if he thinks doing so will show white voters that he’s on their side.

One might argue that on a basic level, the race between Walker and Warnock was relatively close because America is so divided and because — notwithstanding the success of Biden, Sen. Jon Ossoff and Warnock this election cycle — Georgia isn’t as much blue as it is turning blue. It’s also the case that many voters will turn out for their party even if they know the party’s candidate is deeply flawed.

But even with those caveats, it still says something awful about our country and our politics that somebody as eminently disqualified and dishonest as Walker even won his party’s primary, to say nothing of the fact that he ran as well as he did.