Raphael Warnock-Herschel Walker race could determine Senate’s balance of power

UGA football legend, Democratic senator set to meet in Oct. 16 debate
Published: Oct. 2, 2022 at 9:01 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - In a battle that could determine if Republicans or Democrats control the U.S. Senate, Raphael Warnock is facing a tight reelection battle against Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

“The race looks like a runoff depending how large a share goes to [Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver,” said Dr. Charles Bullock of the University of Georgia. “The libertarian candidate could be a parking place for Republicans who don’t believe Walker is prepared for the Senate. Plus, libertarians are usually more likely to pull votes from Republican candidates than Democrats.”

Currently, there are 50 Republicans in the Senate and 48 Democrats, but the Senate’s two Independents caucus with Democrats, meaning the body is split at 50-50. Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, casts any tie-breaking votes.

Warnock won his current seat in a January 2021 runoff against Kelly Loeffler, who had been appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the unexpired term of Johnny Isakson, who had resigned due to health reasons. Warnock’s win, along with Jon Ossoff’s ouster of then-incumbent David Perdue, gave Georgia two Democratic U.S. senators for the first time in decades.

Dr. Ben Taylor answers three questions about the midterms.

Warnock and Walker have confirmed they will meet in at least one debate, Oct. 14 in Savannah.

Full coverage of Georgia’s 2022 midterm elections

“History shows debates have very little influence overall,” said Dr. Benjamin Taylor of Kennesaw State University. “While people think they know Walker from his playing days at UGA, the debatae could expose some other things about him that Warnock has been highlighting in his ads.

“Walker has high name recognition, but candidates do matter,” Taylor said. “At some point he’s going to have to answer some of the criticisms of him and the issues in the race.”

“Walker is beginning to lower expectations over his performance in the debate, saying he’s not that smart and Warnock will do well,” Bullock said. “If he doesn’t fall flat on his face in the debate, that scores as a win.”

UGA's Dr. Charles Bullock answers three questions about the 2022 midterms.

A new CBS News Battleground Tracker poll released last week shows Warnock with a slight, two-point edge over Walker.

“The candidates are close in support, but voters’ rationales for supporting each of them are quite different,” according to CBS News. “Warnock has better favorable ratings and character measures, while Walker’s voters have eyes on Washington and a chance for a Republican Senate.”

“While my gut tells me Warnock will win this election, it’s very possible this race can end up in a runoff due the relative strength of the Libertarian candidate and Walker’s weaknesses,” said Dr. Rashad Richey, a national TV news analyst, lecturer and Democratic Party activist. “Based on recent polling data, Walker does not enjoy a 90% plus support base within his own party. Warnock has been able to secure roughly 94% to 96% of Democratic voters within his base.

“Base support creates excitement, especially during the final days of the election. This race will come down to base supporters showing up to vote.”

Most Georgia registered voters, according to the poll, like how Warnock handles himself. Most also said Warnock has strong moral character; is a good role model; has the right experience; and is honest and truthful.

Walker’s supporters aren’t voting for him because they like him, according to the poll. Instead, most say they are voting for Walker to oppose Warnock or because Walker is the GOP nominee.

Warnock has positive job approval ratings even though most Georgia voters disapprove of President Joe Biden’s performance, the poll said. Among Walker backers, most see their vote as one to oppose the president.

Warnock, according to the poll, leads among women overall, voters under 45, Black voters, and both liberals and moderates. Walker also gets solid support from members of his own party as well as among older voters, White men and women, conservatives, and narrowly among independents.

“As in the rest of the country, the economy and inflation are at the top of voters’ minds in Georgia, and these are issues that favor the Republicans,” CBS News said. “Most voters who say the economy and inflation are very important issues are voting for Walker, as are most voters who say higher prices have been a financial hardship for them.

“Meanwhile, the issue of abortion is motivating Democrats - who put it at the top of the list in terms of importance - and that helps Warnock,” the poll said.