Sen. Raphael Warnock won a full six-year term in the Senate by earning more votes than Republican Herschel Walker in a Dec. 6 runoff. But how Warnock won paints an interesting picture about the state of Georgia politics.
Warnock earned more votes than Walker in the November general election but failed to clear the 50% threshold needed to win outright, as roughly 1 in 10 Georgians who voted for Gov. Brian Kemp did not support the former football star in the Senate race.
A full and complete picture of who showed up — or didn’t — and where won’t come until counties finish updating the voter history file that tracks who was credited for voting and if they voted on runoff election day or early. But a look at the county-level results from Tuesday’s runoff sheds light on how Walker became the only statewide Republican candidate to lose in the midterm election.
The record-setting early in-person vote saw Warnock open up a nearly 270,000 vote lead before Dec. 6, a total that ballooned to more than 321,000 when you include mail-in absentee ballots. That margin held even as an equally record-setting election day saw 1.6 million people cast ballots, which Walker won by nearly 225,000 votes.
As you can see in the chart below, Warnock ran up the in-person early voting score in urban, Democrat-heavy counties like Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton, but also won the in-person early vote in suburban Fayette County (which narrowly voted for Walker) and four other Republican counties in middle and Southwest Georgia.
Republicans and the Walker campaign did not aggressively promote voting before runoff election day, and actively fought a lawsuit that sought to allow early voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving after the state said an old law prevented counties from offering voting that day. Mailers from the state GOP did not mention early voting and included a QR code that led to a broken link instead of voting information. Walker himself made headlines for not knowing there was early voting for the runoff.
Another trend that continued from the general election to the runoff is Walker’s underperformance compared to popular incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. In Republican exurban strongholds like Cherokee and Forsyth counties, Walker earned more than 5% fewer votes than Kemp did in November. Only in one county, Echols, did Walker earn a higher vote share than Kemp.
Throughout the campaign, voters from all political stripes expressed concerns about the myriad controversies that bogged down Walker’s first time running for office, including: allegations he pressured ex-girlfriends to seek abortions despite publicly opposing abortion rights; lying about his resume and business dealings; and making nonsensical statements about public policy.
Walker’s underperformance in the runoff was concentrated the most around Georgia’s more educated cities and suburbs.
The runoff saw Walker increase his vote share in many rural counties across the state with Libertarian Chase Oliver no longer on the ballot, particularly in Northwest Georgia. But, unfortunately for Walker, Warnock increased his vote share in 148 of 159 counties, too. That includes meaningful jumps in metro Atlanta and nearly a 3% increase in Johnson County, where Walker was born.
In Fulton County, Walker lost 1% of the vote from the general while Warnock picked up 3%. Cobb County gave Warnock nearly 60% of the vote in the runoff, an increase of nearly 2.5%, while Walker’s share stayed virtually stagnant. The lack of other popular Republicans on the ballot like Kemp appears to have benefited Warnock.
Ultimately, Walker was the worst statewide Republican candidate in Georgia this year, from both a statistical perspective and from a campaign perspective. Georgia’s battleground status saw voters reward Warnock’s more moderate message while Walker’s base-focused approach led to sizable support among older white Republicans in rural areas but demonstrated the electoral shortcomings of such a strategy.
To see more county-level charts, click here.
This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.