Georgia Republicans, for the most part, had an excellent election year. There were nine statewide contests in the Peach State in 2022, and GOP candidates won eight of them with relative ease. Georgia voters rewarded Republican candidates with the governor’s office, the state House, and the state Senate, while easily re-electing nine Republicans to the U.S. House, each of whom won in a landslide.
For all the talk about Georgia becoming a “purple” state, GOP officials had reason to take stock the day after Election Day last month and feel quite good about the state’s political landscape.
There was, however, one rather dramatic exception. NBC News reported overnight:
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican football star Herschel Walker on Tuesday in Georgia’s Senate runoff election, NBC News projects, handing President Joe Biden and his party a key win. Warnock’s victory will give Democrats an outright majority in the Senate after two years under a 50-50 divide, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.
Though some votes are still being tallied, it appears that the incumbent senator will prevail by roughly three points, which is in line with the expectations set by recent polling.
Similarly, Warnock’s win is the largest margin of victory for any Democratic Senate candidate in Georgia since 2000 — when former Gov. Zell Miller won with 58% support. (Miller was a conservative Democrat who ended up endorsing George W. Bush’s Republican re-election campaign four years later. Warnock is a qualitatively different kind of Democrat.)
As the dust settles on this dramatic contest, there’s no shortage of angles to keep in mind.
Herschel Walker was a uniquely ridiculous candidate
Ahead of yesterday’s balloting, Roll Call’s Stuart Rothenberg, who’s seen more than a few Senate races over the course of his career, said Walker was “as bad a candidate as I have ever seen.” The Guardian’s Jill Filipovic recently came to a similar conclusion: “It’s possible that Herschel Walker is the worst candidate the modern Republican party has ever run for national office, and in an era of conspiracy theorists, Christian nationalists and Donald Trump, that’s saying a lot.”
Even if we put aside the scandals, the breathtaking dishonesty, and the cringe-worthy ignorance, it was never altogether clear why Walker was running or what he intended to do with the Senate seat. He made no promises. He expressed few preferences. He never demonstrated any real interest in doing any meaningful work as a candidate for a powerful office. As recently as last week, he seemed to think he was running for a House seat.
In the wake of his defeat, one GOP operative told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Herschel was like a plane crash into a train wreck that rolled into a dumpster fire. And an orphanage. Then an animal shelter. You kind of had to watch it squinting through one eye between your fingers.” Another person close to the Walker campaign told Politico, “He should have never run for this seat.” His loss, the person added, is largely because “Herschel had a ton of baggage he was not transparent about, and we were constantly behind the eight ball.”
Walker didn’t just lose, Warnock won
The Democratic incumbent had a lot to overcome — including Georgia Republicans’ strong year and ugly new voting restrictions — but he ran an extremely impressive race, all while proving himself an adept fundraiser.
There was immediate talk about Warnock having proved himself as a possible national contender, and such speculation is tough to dismiss.
Donald Trump will receive a lot of blame — for good reason
On March 10, 2021, the former president issued a written statement that generated a lot of attention. “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the legendary Herschel Walker ran for the United States Senate in Georgia?” Trump said. “He would be unstoppable, just like he was when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, and in the NFL. He is also a GREAT person. Run Herschel, run!”
This helped convince Walker to move to Georgia, launch a campaign, and keep real candidates out of the race. Following similar losses for Trump-backed Senate candidates — in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Hew Hampshire, and Alaska — Trump deserves all of the blame he’s already receiving.
The margin should’ve been bigger
As impressive as Warnock’s hard-fought win was, common sense suggests the margin could’ve been, and should’ve been, even bigger given the obvious differences in qualification between the candidates.
As my MSNBC colleague Jarvis DeBerry concluded overnight, “[I]t 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.”