Georgia Senate runoff: Sen. Raphael Warnock's win gives Democrats more leverage in Congress

This was CNBC's live blog covering Tuesday's runoff race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP candidate Herschel Walker for Georgia's Senate seat.

Georgia voters reelected Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in the fierce Senate runoff election against Trump pick and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, NBC News projects.

Warnock's win gives Democrats a bit more control in the almost evenly split Senate with 51 votes, and it may make it easier for U.S. President Joe Biden to get bills passed over the next two years of his term. It reduces leverage for moderate Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have held up passage of some of Biden's signature bills in his first two years in office.

The Georgia race went to a runoff after neither Warnock nor Walker won more than 50% of the vote in the November general election.

The high-profile election has been marked by dead-even polling, heavy spending and a cascade of personal scandals that have spilled into the runoff period.

Warnock victory speech: 'The people have spoken'

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 06: Georgia Democratic Senate candidate U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) speaks during an election night watch party at the Marriott Marquis on December 6, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. Sen. Warnock has tonight defeated his Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff election. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win Mcnamee | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Sen. Raphael Warnock addressed an ecstatic crowd after his projected victory over GOP challenger Herschel Walker, thanking Georgia's voters, his supporters and his family in a triumphant speech.

"After a hard-fought campaign, or should I say campaigns, it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy," Warnock said. "The people have spoken."

At times, the delivery from the reverend took on an almost sermon-like tenor.

"I often say that a vote is a kind of prayer, for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children," he said. "Voting is faith put into action. And Georgia, you have been praying with your lips and your legs, with your hands and your feet, your heads and your hearts. You have put in the hard work, and here we are standing together."

Kevin Breuninger

Herschel Walker concedes: 'We put up one heck of a fight'

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 06: Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker delivers his concession speech as his wife Julie Blanchard and former football player Doug Flutie look on during an election night event at the College Football Hall of Fame on December 6, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. Tonight Walker lost his runoff election to incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker has conceded the runoff election in Georgia to Sen. Raphael Warnock, after networks, including NBC, called the race for Warnock.

"There are no excuses in life, and I'm not going to make any excuses now," Walker told a somber crowd gathered for an election night party in Atlanta. "We put up one heck of a fight."

Walker did not congratulate his opponent, nor did he mention any other politicians. He thanked his wife, Julie, and his campaign staff.

"You cannot blame anyone because I want you to continue to believe in this country, believe in our elected officials and most of all, stay together," he said.

"God is good. He is a good god. All the time, he is a good god. So I want to say, I am never going to stop fighting for Georgia," said Walker, who was a resident of Texas until he launched his campaign in Georgia.

Walker spoke for approximately three minutes.

— Christina Wilkie

Sen. Raphael Warnock beats Trump pick Herschel Walker, NBC News projects

NORCROSS, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 06: Georgia Democratic Senate candidate U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) speaks to supporters during a pre-canvassing event December 6, 2022 in Norcross, Georgia. Sen. Warnock is competing in a runoff election being held today against his Republican challenger Herschel Walker. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win Mcnamee | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Sen. Raphael Warnock is projected to beat Republican challenger Herschel Walker in the state's runoff election to win a full six-year term in the Senate, according to NBC News.

Warnock's victory over Walker will give Democrats a 51-49 majority in the Senate, a potentially crucial boost that caps much-better-than-expected midterm elections for the party in control of the White House.

It also marks a major loss for former President Donald Trump, who had championed Walker and campaigned for him. Trump was already under fire from some Republicans after many of his handpicked candidates underperformed in key midterm races, helping Democrats keep majority control of the upper chamber of Congress.

Kevin Breuninger

'We’re going to win Georgia,' predicts Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden arrives aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., March 8, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

President Joe Biden sounded a confident note Tuesday night outside Washington, D.C., predicting that Democrat Raphael Warnock would win his Senate runoff in formerly deep red Georgia.

"We're going to win," Biden told reporters as he deplaned from Air Force One following a day trip to Arizona. "We're going to win Georgia."

That sentence, coming from a Democrat like Biden, would have been unimaginable eight years ago.

But now, Warnock's race is expected to deliver a final verdict on whether Georgia, a former Republican stronghold that former President Donald Trump won by 5 points, is really a swing state.

— Christina Wilkie

'The fever has broken' for election threats and violence, says top Georgia official

A voter casts his ballot during early voting in the runoff U.S. Senate election between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker, at a polling center in Columbus, Georgia, November 28, 2022.
Cheney Orr | Reuters

A top state official said that while Georgia poll workers were prepared for the possibility of violence in this year's Senate runoff, so far the election had not produced "nearly the level of vitriol" as the 2021 runoff did.

"The fever has broken," Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer of the secretary of state's office, said on CNN.

He added, "Our big concern has always been the lone wolf who's still angry about what happened in 2020 being stirred up by conspiracy theorists."

As part of the state's election readiness, Sterling said Georgia had launched a new poll worker text response program that "poll managers could use to notify us at the state level, their elections directors and local law enforcement if any actual threat" emerged on Election Day.

Thankfully, he said, no one needed to use the program during Tuesday's runoff.

— Christina Wilkie

Warnock is leading in too-close-to-call Georgia Senate runoff, NBC projects

The Georgia Senate runoff remains too close to call, but Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is leading his Republican challenger Herschel Walker, NBC News projected.

With 87% of the expected vote in, Warnock led Walker 50.2% to 49.8%, according to NBC.

At that time, some high-population areas, including heavily Democratic Fulton and Dekalb Counties, still had large chunks of the vote left to be counted.

Kevin Breuninger

Two Georgia poll workers involved in a serious car accident, but unhurt

Poll worker Kelvin Ellis greets voters as they enter the Park Tavern polling location to cast their ballots in the Georgia primary election on May 24, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jessica Mcgowan | Getty Images

Two Georgia poll workers were involved in a serious car accident on voting day en route to deliver a vote card in Fulton County, said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer of the secretary of state's office.

"They had them in a jaws of life," Sterling said on CNN. "Both of the poll workers are okay, they turned down medical attention to go to the hospital but they were able to retrieve that vote card" and turned it over to the county authorities on time, he said.

"This the kind of stuff that happens on Election Day, because you have thousands of people out there doing their jobs."

Sterling praised Georgia's poll workers and election volunteers, some of whom he said have to drive hours to hand deliver ballot count cards to their county headquarters.

— Christina Wilkie

Georgia Senate runoff is too close to call, NBC projects

With more than two-thirds of the vote in, the Senate runoff election in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker was still too close to call, NBC News projected.

Warnock and Walker appeared to be neck and neck with 72% of the expected vote tallied. The Democratic incumbent held a narrow lead, 50.4% to 49.6%, over the GOP challenger, according to NBC's latest count of the race.

Kevin Breuninger

Georgia Senate runoff is too early to call with 49% in, NBC projects

Georgia Democratic Senate candidate U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) speaks during a campaign rally on November 30, 2022 in Albany, Georgia.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

The Senate runoff election in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker is too early to call, NBC News projected.

About an hour after the 7 p.m. ET poll-closing time, and with 49% of the expected vote in, Warnock appeared to be leading Walker, 53.4% to 46.6%, according to NBC's count of the race. That tally included about half of Fulton County, which is the state's largest and includes Atlanta, where Warnock held a sizeable lead.

It was not immediately clear how much of the tally comprised early voters, who were believed to favor Warnock.

Kevin Breuninger

NAACP wins emergency suit for additional voting time at Georgia polling place

Voters line up at the Metropolitan Library to cast their ballots in the runoff election for the Senate position, between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican candidate Herschel Walker, in Atlanta, Georgia, November 29, 2022.
Megan Varner | Reuters

The NAACP's Office of General Counsel won an emergency lawsuit to extend voting hours in a Georgia church in McDonough, located in Henry County.

The suit brought by the civil rights group sought additional time for voting after early-morning issues delayed voters' ability to cast ballots by 45 minutes, the group said.

Following an emergency hearing, the Henry County Superior Court granted the extension.

Voters who are in line at the Salem Baptist Church by 7:45 P.M. will be permitted to vote. Polls across the rest of the state closed at 7 P.M.

The NAACP was one of several civil rights groups on the ground in Georgia for Tuesday's runoff.

The Department of Justice also deployed officials from its Civil Rights Division to four Georgia counties to monitor polls and ensure access.

— Christina Wilkie

More than 1.3 million votes cast on Election Day, Georgia Secretary of State says

Supporters wait for the arrival of Reverend Raphael Warnock, Democratic Senator for Georgia, during a "Get Out the Vote" midterm runoff election rally and Teamsters worksite visit at a UPS facility in Atlanta, Georgia, December 5, 2022.
Cheney Orr | Reuters

More than 1.33 million votes had been cast on the day of the Senate runoff in Georgia as of 6 p.m. ET, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said.

That figure comes close to matching the level of turnout Georgia saw in the general election last month, Raffensperger said on CNN just under an hour before polls closed.

Georgia saw "very strong turnout," Raffensperger said, adding, "It's been a smooth process."

Kevin Breuninger

Polls close in Georgia Senate runoff

Local residents wait in line to cast their ballots during the midterm runoff elections at Central Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia, U.S., December 6, 2022. 
Cheney Orr | Reuters

Polls have closed at 7 p.m. ET in Georgia Senate runoff, 12 hours after they opened for in-person voting — and about one month after Warnock and Walker first locked horns in the general midterm elections.

While voters at some polling sites faced lengthy waits in line, state election officials reported that average wait times were brief, with most people waiting just a few minutes to cast their ballots.

They also noted that if voters are in line by 7 p.m. ET, they are allowed to cast their ballots.

Kevin Breuninger

Warnock campaign outpaces Walker on Twitter

Reverend Raphael Warnock, Democratic Senator for Georgia, gather with supporters during the midterm Senate runoff elections in Norcross, Georgia, December 6, 2022.
Carlos Barria | Reuters

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock's campaign maintained a robust presence on Twitter as voters went to the polls, posting more than two dozen original tweets before polls closed across Georgia.

Warnock's strong social media presence stood in stark contrast to Republican Herschel Walker, whose campaign did not appear to have posted any original tweets as of 5:30 p.m. on voting day.

While Walker did not post anything original, his campaign retweeted several supportive messages from other Republicans, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Walker has drawn criticism from Republicans during his runoff campaign for maintaining an unconventional campaign schedule, disappearing for more than a week over Thanksgiving and refusing to speak to reporters at events.

— Christina Wilkie

Tuesday turnout is on pace to exceed 1 million voters, state officials say

Gabriel Sterling, Voting System Implementation Manager with the Georgia Secretary of State's office, speaks at a news conference at the State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia, January 4, 2021.
Mike Segar | Reuters

More than 1 million voters are expected to cast their ballots on Tuesday in Georgia's Senate runoff, according to the chief operating officer for the secretary of state.

As of 2 p.m. ET, approximately 800,000 votes had already been logged, Gabriel Sterling told reporters at a press conference.

"We are seeing no lines and pretty sizable turnout," he said.

Tuesday's ballots will be added to the nearly 1.9 million early and absentee votes that have already been cast.

— Christina Wilkie

Ye, under fire for anti-Semitic outbursts, posts pro-Herschel Walker message

Rapper Kanye West speaks during his meeting with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 11, 2018.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Ye, the rapper once known as Kanye West who has been broadly denounced over a string of virulently anti-Semitic remarks, earlier Tuesday posted an image of Herschel Walker along with a get-out-the-vote message.

"," read part of Ye's post on Instagram, a Meta-owned social media platform that had restricted his account multiple times in recent months.

Ye had expressed support for Walker days earlier during an interview with right-wing conspiracy media outlet Infowars on Thursday. "Herschel Walker changed his life for Christ," Ye said, "and he might have had abortions but he doesn't believe in abortions."

That remark, a reference to reporting alleging Walker pushed at least two ex-lovers to have abortions, came in an interview in which Ye expressed praise for Nazis and Adolf Hitler.

Twitter suspended Ye shortly after the rapper tweeted an image containing a swastika later that day.

Walker's campaign did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on Ye's post.

Kevin Breuninger

Trump-backed PAC doesn't buy a single ad for GOP candidate Walker in Georgia runoff

Former college football star and current senatorial candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally, as former U.S. President Donald Trump applauds, in Perry, Georgia, U.S. September 25, 2021.
Dustin Chambers | Reuters

A super PAC backed by former President Donald Trump has not invested a single cent into the Georgia Senate runoff, as incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock outspends Republican candidate Herschel Walker in the $84 million race.

The pro-Trump PAC Make America Great Again Inc. was launched in the buildup to Trump's Nov. 15 announcement of his 2024 run for president. The PAC spent at least $681,000 supporting Walker in the Georgia Senate general election but nothing for today's contest, according to data from AdImpact and Federal Election Commission.

A spokesman for the MAGA Inc. PAC did not return a request for comment.

Democrats have outspent Republicans in the runoff campaign. Warnock's campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $27 million on ads backing Warnock, AdImpact's data shows. Walker and the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent just over $11 million on the runoff race.

Warnock's campaign had almost three times as much cash on hand as Walker's in the runup to Georgia's runoff election.

Other Democratic groups spent an additional $30 million on the runoff while other Republican organizations put up an extra $15.8 million heading into Tuesday.

Brian Schwartz

Dem advertisers outspend GOP by more than 2-to-1 margin in Georgia runoff

Democratic advertisers dominated Georgia's airwaves in the run-up to the runoff, outspending Republican advertisers by more than a 2-to-1 margin, according to data from AdImpact.

Democratic advertisers spent $57.2 million in the runoff period, versus $27.3 million from GOP advertisers. That's a much wider gap than in Georgia's general election, when the percentage of ad spending was split more evenly between the two parties' advertising groups.

Party-issue groups' spending also flipped between the Georgia general midterm election and the runoff, according to AdImpact: GOP groups made up more than 58% of ad spending for the state's general election, but just 35% of ad spending in the runoff.

AdImpact noted that MAGA Inc., a group backed by former President Donald Trump that bought ads for the Nov. 8 Senate race in Georgia, spent nothing in the state during the runoff.

Kevin Breuninger

Justice Department is monitoring Georgia runoff for possible civil rights violations

The Department of Justice said it will monitor Georgia's Senate runoff election in four counties to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws.

The federal personnel will be present in Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County and Macon-Bibb County, according to a DOJ press release.

The DOJ has been monitoring elections as a standard practice for decades to confirm compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But in the November midterm elections last month, state officials from Missouri and Florida said they would block federal officers from entering polling sites. DOJ election monitors did not go inside polling places in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The DOJ's notice about its activities in the Georgia runoff included a link to a webpage where people can report possible violations of voting rights laws.

Kevin Breuninger

Republicans back Walker as scandal-plagued history followed him to the runoff

Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks as former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley listens during a campaign rally on December 5, 2022 in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

Walker's campaign sought to present him as a world-class athlete, a successful businessman, a faithful Christian and an inspirational figure who overcame adversity. But his Senate bid has been weighed down by a stream of gaffes and major scandals about his personal life.

Republicans circled the wagons around the ex-NFL star after The Daily Beast and other news outlets reported that Walker, who expressed staunchly anti-abortion views on the campaign trail, had paid for an ex-girlfriend's abortion years earlier. Walker denied the allegations, even as his adult son Christian Walker castigated his father on social media. Less than two weeks before the midterms, a second woman came forward to claim Walker had pushed her to get an abortion.

Walker's personal life had already been under scrutiny before those allegations came to light. Earlier in the campaign, Walker had acknowledged fathering multiple other children who were not previously known to be related to him. The Senate bid has also raised questions about Walker's mental health, and accusations by Walker's ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, resurfaced that he had been abusive and threatening toward her.

Claims about Walker kept coming in the runoff campaign: Last week, The Daily Beast reported allegations by Cheryl Parsa, an ex-girlfriend of Walker's, accusing the Senate candidate of violent behavior and infidelity.

Kevin Breuninger

Georgia election officials tout low wait times for in-person voting

Georgia voters are casting ballots without much delay, according to Gabriel Sterling, the chief of operations for Georgia's secretary of state.

"We are down to a wait time of minute and 25 seconds," Sterling tweeted around 9:30 a.m. ET.

Two hours after polls opened, turnout at the state's 2,400 polling locations had exceeded 250,000 votes cast, Sterling tweeted at the time.

"Steady turnout," Sterling said.

Kevin Breuninger

Warnock-Walker runoff cements Georgia as one of the nation's most competitive battlegrounds

Once a reliably red state in national elections, Georgia has emerged in recent cycles as one of the most important and competitive swing states in the U.S.

The Peach State has skewed Republican for decades, but it narrowly sided with President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump in 2020, then elected two Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Those victories gave Democrats a razor-thin Senate majority, which went on to enact major pieces of Biden's legislative agenda.

Warnock won his seat in a runoff nearly two years ago in a Jan. 2021 special election against GOP contender Kelly Loeffler. Georgia's other Senate seat went to Democrat Jon Ossoff over Republican David Perdue in a separate runoff that same day.

The high-profile race between Warnock and Walker went to a runoff after no candidate won more than 50% of the vote in the November general election. While Warnock got more votes than Walker, third-party candidate Chase Oliver, a Libertarian, secured just over 2% of the vote, keeping either of the two main contenders from clinching a majority, according to NBC News' count.

Kevin Breuninger

Georgia's early voting broke single-day records, but total early turnout falls below last runoff

Voters line up at Metropolitan Library to cast their ballots in the runoff election for the Senate position, between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican candidate Herschel Walker, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., November 29, 2022. 
Megan Varner | Reuters

The early-voting period before the runoff election broke records, with the final day Friday notching the "single biggest day of early voting ever," state election officials proclaimed.

More than 353,000 voters cast ballots in person on that day, state data show, crushing records set earlier in the week. Georgia's previous one-day record for early voting was about 233,000 votes, according to Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the Georgia Secretary of State.

But total early-voter turnout was still down from the prior Senate runoff in Georgia, data show. About 1.87 million early votes were cast in the runoff between Warnock and Walker, down from the 3.1 million votes cast in Georgia ahead of last year's runoffs.

That could be because voters in the current runoff election had fewer days to cast their ballots — about one week, compared with the nearly three weeks offered in the prior cycle. The condensed schedule came after Georgia's GOP-led legislature passed a sweeping 2021 election law. It could have been narrowed further, but the Warnock campaign won a state lawsuit to allow early voting on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Kevin Breuninger