By Toni Odejimi and Joshua Heron
Howard University News Service
For 28 days, attack ad after attack ad bombarded Georgians, reminding them that they’d have to trek to the polls again to choose between U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and former football star Herschel Walker.
Last week’s Senate runoff ended all of that, with Warnock winning 51.4 percent of the vote.
“I want all of Georgia to know whether you voted for me or not, that every single day, I am going to keep working for you,” Warnock said at the final event of his “One More Time” run-off campaign, which he had called a “victory party,” not an election watch party, long before votes were cast. It turned out that his hubris was well placed.
The Marriott Marquis was packed with patrons in buttoned-up suits and shimmering sequins. The crowd chattered into the night, and then at 10:24 p.m., it happened. CNN flickered on the screen, declaring that Warnock was projected to win the election.
The energy of the thunderous crowd echoed off the walls. Warnock supporters pumped their fists in the air and raised campaign signs in a raucous celebration to the song “All I Do Is Win.”
Warnock sauntered across the stage with a smile on his face. “The people have spoken,” he said, recognizing Georgians from essential workers to farmers and vowing to “walk with you, even as I work for you.”
Georgia’s first Black senator acknowledged voter suppression, but praised residents of the Peach State for accomplishing an “amazing thing” at the polls.
What does this mean for Warnock’s supporters? Some say democracy is an inch closer.
“It means that we are one step closer to electing Stacey Abrams as governor,” Binh Truome said. “We are one step closer to establishing felony voting rights to ex-felons. And we are one step closer to making a democracy that people actually believe in.”
Warnock’s win doesn’t just represent Georgia Democrats getting one win after a trail of losses; it represents a cushion for Democrats nationwide. Democrats already had control of the Senate after Election Day, but Warnock’s win acts as an extra buffer, an extra vote. And this extra vote has come into play, with Warnock repeatedly championing that he was the vote that put Ketanji Brown Jackson on the U.S. Supreme Court.
With Warnock remaining in the Senate, Democrats were able to stop the “red wave” that was predicted to occur in this year’s midterms.
His opponent, Herschel Walker, accumulated an abundance of support, including fundraising help from re-elected Gov. Brian Kemp. However, the abundance was not enough for Walker and others handpicked by Donald Trump, who were characterized as lacking “candidate quality.”
Unlike his political advisor, Walker willingly conceded the race. “No excuses,” he said at his campaign headquarters after projections ascertained his loss. “We put up one heck of a fight.”
Walker gave thanks to his team and donors, while encouraging those in attendance. “Always cast your votes and never give up,” he said. “Believe in this country and its state officials.”
The former Heisman Trophy winner does not regret running, glorifying the experience. “One of the best things I have ever done is run for the senate seat.”
His loss was a sigh of relief for Warnock supporter Tesoro Kanwit.
“We’re getting into a level of politics that’s hitting harder and harder,” Kanwit said. “For now, when we’re so divided, we need someone who’s going to speak up and really lead and have people follow him.”
Tonya Holmes believes that Warnock is the right person at the right time. “He cares about people, all people,” Holmes said. “He’s experienced, and he’s gonna do what needs to be done to make sure that the majority of people are well taken care of.”
This was another close race for the senator, making it his second runoff. Warnock ran off against Republican Kelly Loeffler last year. Warnock had to run for reelection in 2022, unlike Jon Ossoff, because he was filling Johnny Isakson’s seat after the senator resigned.
In 2024, Warnock can focus on promoting the Democratic presidential nominee in the battleground state, where Biden reigned victorious in 2020, along with three senate victories in the past two years.
“Now it is on us,” Warnock said, “the latest generation of Americans and of Georgians to keep building that bridge to keep walking that long walk, pushing the nation towards our ideals.”
“I am Georgia. I am an example and an iteration of its history, of its pain and its promise,” he added. “You can’t love the people unless you know the people, and you can’t know the people unless you walk among the people.”
Joshua Heron of Howard University and Toni Odejimi of Georgia State University are reporters for HUNewsService.com and part of the election team.