All you need to know as US Senate race goes to runoff in Georgia

In a dead heat in midterm polls, Republican Herschel Walker and Democrat Raphael Warnock head to a December runoff.

A hand holds a sign that reads, 'Herschel for Senate'
Though both Walker and Warnock garnered more than 1.9 million votes each, they failed to earn a simple majority with 50 percent of the vote [Alex Wong/Getty Images]

The fate of a potentially decisive United States Senate seat will not be determined this week, as a hard-fought midterms contest in Georgia is now moving to a runoff next month between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican hopeful Herschel Walker.

Though both candidates garnered more than 1.9 million votes each, they failed to earn a simple majority with 50 percent of the vote.

This launches the two men into four more weeks of campaigning, as they attempt to woo the Georgia electorate one more time before the runoff election on December 6.

The political stakes could not be higher, as Democrats attempt to retain control of the US Senate against Republican efforts to wrest back both houses of Congress.

Should Republicans succeed, they would be able to limit Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative ambitions and have the power to reject any presidential appointments to the Supreme Court and other high-ranking offices.

With control of the US Senate coming down to a handful of tight races, and vote counting continuing into Wednesday evening with no clear winner yet announced, what happens in Georgia may shape the fate of the Biden presidency.

Here, Al Jazeera breaks down all you need to know about the two candidates:

Run-off is deja vu for Warnock

Before his political career, Warnock, 53, was perhaps best known as the senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, an Atlanta institution where US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr led services until his death in 1968.

But he was also outspoken about politics, particularly healthcare. In 2014, he was among 40 protesters arrested during a sit-in at the Georgia state Capitol, where he was protesting the then-governor’s decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Healthcare remained a top priority for Warnock as he ran for the US Senate in 2020, hoping to replace interim Senator Kelly Loeffler, appointed to a seat left vacant by a Republican retirement.

Both Georgia Senate seats were up for grabs, drawing nationwide attention, and both races went to a runoff in 2021, ultimately won by Democrats: one by Warnock and one by Jon Ossoff. Their victories allowed the Democrats to gain a razor-thin advantage over an evenly divided Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris could cast the deciding vote.

Warnock’s election was historic as he became the first African American to represent Georgia in the US Senate.

In this year’s race, Warnock once again faces a runoff of national importance against a Trump-endorsed Republican. But in a speech from his campaign headquarters late on Election Night, he touted his lead over his Republican rival Walker.

“We are not sure if this journey is over tonight or if there is still a little work yet to do,” Warnock said on Tuesday. “But here’s what we do know. We know that, when they’re finished counting the votes from today’s election, that we’re going to have received more votes than my opponent.”

Walker, a Trump-endorsed former sports star

Warnock’s rival Walker likewise struck an upbeat note in his message to voters on Election Night, delivering a speech that underscored his optimism and faith.

“I’m like Ricky Bobby. I don’t come to lose,” Walker quipped, referencing the ever-optimistic hero of the 2006 Hollywood comedy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

A decorated US sports star, Walker earned the highest honour for college athletes playing US football – the Heisman Trophy – in 1982 before leaving university to start a professional career.

He spent 15 years in the National Football League (NFL), playing with teams that included the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings. He also competed on the US bobsled team in the 1992 Winter Olympics.

A competitor on the reality TV show, The Apprentice, Walker has fostered a decades-long relationship with former US President Donald Trump, dating back to the 1980s.

Trump appointed him co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition in 2018. And it was with Trump’s backing that Walker entered the 2022 US Senate race, his first attempt at public office.

But Walker’s candidacy has attracted scrutiny of his personal life, including claims of domestic violence and that Walker may have financed abortions for past girlfriends, in contrast to his anti-abortion stance on the campaign trail. Walker has denied the allegations.

Still, with a race so tight, Walker remained neck-and-neck with Warnock, criticising his opponent’s ties to the Biden administration as a “threat to democracy“.

“I’m a Warrior for God, running against a wolf in sheep’s clothing and a hypocrite,” he posted on Twitter in the days leading up to the election.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies