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Sen. Raphael Warnock's decisive win has solidified Georgia's status as a battleground state and gives Democrats a critical 51-49 advantage in the Senate beginning next month. NewsHour’s Laura Barrón-López reports and Judy Woodruff speaks with Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting to discuss what this means for Democrats in Georgia and beyond.
Repercussions from the final U.S. Senate race of this year's midterm elections are still echoing in Washington tonight.
Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock was reelected to a full six-year term in Tuesday's run-off, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
Laura Barrón-López begins our coverage of the run-off result and what it means.
A triumphant return to Washington, Senator Raphael Warnock greeting Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after delivering Democrats a critical 51st vote in the Senate.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA):
Georgia did it again.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
He wins after the state saw record turnout in Georgia's run-off, more than 3.5 million votes cast.
In his victory speech, democracy and the fight to protect and expand the right to vote was prominently featured.
Sen. Raphael Warnock:
Just because they endured the rain and the cold and all kinds of tricks in order to vote doesn't mean that voter suppression does not exist. It simply means that you, the people, have decided that your voices will not be silenced.
Last year, Warnock, who is a pastor at Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, became the first Black senator to represent Georgia, a state that has grown increasingly diverse and competitive for Democrats.
When all votes are counted, Warnock is on track for a roughly two-point margin of victory against Republican challenger Herschel Walker, a retired football star encouraged to run by former President Donald Trump.
Herschel Walker (R), Georgia Senatorial Candidate: But the best thing I have ever done in my whole entire life is run for this Senate seat right here.
Despite past statements lying about the 2020 presidential election, Walker admitted defeat and encouraged his supporters to believe in election officials.
I want you to believe in America and continue to believe in the Constitution and believe in our elected officials, most of all.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL):
We all have to figure out what we have to do differently.
In Washington today, Republican Senator Rick Scott, who led the Senate GOP campaign arm and joined Walker on the trail, declined to say if the party needs to distance itself from Trump.
Sen. Rick Scott:
I think we — we do have to have a message that, when Republicans run, you say your — this is what Republicans are going to get done.
At the White House, President Joe Biden called Warnock last night to congratulate him.
I am Georgia.
I am an example and an iteration of its history, of its pain and its promise, of the brutality and the possibility.
The wind caps off the final race of the 2022 midterm elections and marks the first time since 1934 that the president's party did not lose any Senate seats.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Laura Barrón-López.
Senator Warnock's win has helped Georgia solidify itself as a battleground state and gives Democrats a critical advantage in the Senate.
Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting has been keeping a close watch on the state's run-off. He was in the room for Senator Warnock's victory speech last night.
Stephen Fowler, welcome back to the "NewsHour."
So, tell us, what made the difference, from not being able to reach 50 percent to in the end having, what, a 2.8 percent margin over Herschel Walker in the run-off? How did Warnock do it?
Stephen Fowler, Georgia Public Broadcasting:
Well, Judy, looking at the top-level results, Raphael Warnock improved his margins in 148 out of 159 counties in Georgia.
He improved in Democratic strongholds, where he ran up the score. He cut into the margins in strong deep red conservative bastions. And he did so by reaching multiple different groups of people, from Black voters that are the Democratic backbone, to younger voters home for the holidays at Thanksgiving, to even reaching into those deep red areas and trying to target conservatives and moderates that maybe supported Governor Brian Kemp and other Republicans in Georgia, but just could not support Herschel Walker because of his past and the allegations against him.
So, speaking of that, there were questions during this campaign, both in the general and the run-off, about Herschel Walker's qualifications, about his personal life.
And yet he was still able to come close. It was, as we said, almost three points. What are Republicans in the state saying today about him and about what happened?
Well, there's a lot of soul-searching and a lot of finger-pointing about this election.
Republicans have made the argument that literally anybody else but Herschel Walker would be a Republican U.S. senator right now, because of Walker's unique, basically, flaws as a candidate, his past. He made comments about his — everything from graduating from the University of Georgia, which was not true, to claiming he was in law enforcement, which is not true.
And his biography was riddled with falsehoods that people didn't trust. And then there were allegations of things like allegedly pressuring ex-girlfriends to have abortions, despite publicly opposing all abortion rights.
And it's just the type of things that ultimately made Republicans, enough Republicans, uncomfortable with sending him to the Senate, even though he would have voted for policies that Republicans wanted. And it came down to what Senator Raphael Warnock said during the run-off, that the race was about — quote — "character and competence."
And, ultimately, at the end of the day, more Georgians felt that Warnock had the character and competence to serve them for the next six years.
So, I know, Stephen Fowler, you have also been looking at what this means in the Senate, now that the Democrats have more than a 50/50 tie. They actually have a whopping 51-to-49 majority.
What, essentially, is that expected to mean in terms of what gets done?
Well, it's a deep sigh of relief for Democrats, because, now that they have outright control of the Senate, that means that things like confirmations go a lot smoother.
It weakens people like Senator Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema that have sometimes obstructed Democrats' policy goals in the Senate. And it gives them one extra seat heading into a 2024 election cycle that is a little bit tougher for them and faces an uphill battle, with several vulnerable incumbents on the map.
So, what it does is, it doesn't necessarily give them free rein, since Republicans did take the House back, but it gives them some extra breathing room to maybe get a little bit more done these next two years than they had originally hoped for.
And, as we said, we showed in that report from Laura Barron-Lopez, big, big smile on Chuck Schumer's face for all the reasons you suggest.
And looking ahead just quickly to 2024, what are you hearing already about what this could mean, in terms of Georgia's place? I mean, as you know, the Democrats want to move it up earlier in the primary calendar.
Well, in addition to that, Judy, Atlanta is also one of the finalist cities to potentially host the Democrats' convention.
So Georgia is a power player heading into 2024. And with Republican victories at the state level, finding a path forward potentially without Donald Trump looming large over the Republican Party, both sides have a lot of time and energy invested into Georgia's next two years and beyond.
Going to be an exciting time in the Peach State.
Stephen Fowler, Georgia Public Broadcasting, thank you.
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Laura Barrón-López is the White House Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, where she covers the Biden administration for the nightly news broadcast. She is also a CNN political analyst.
Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
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