In a mega-bucks replay of 2021, control of the Senate could come down to a high-stakes runoff in Georgia, where neither major-party candidate crested the 50% mark Tuesday.
While a handful of Senate races had still not been called, Decision Desk had the upper chamber at 49 Republicans and 48 Democrats, or Independents who caucus with Democrats. The GOP total includes Alaska, where one of two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski or Kelly Tshibaka, was certain to win. It did not include Nevada, where Republican Adam Laxalt held a narrow lead over incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, or Arizona, where incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly held a lead over challenger Blake Masters as of Wednesday morning.
If Nevada and Arizona stay on their current trajectories, Republicans will hold a 50-49 lead, with a Dec. 6 Georgia runoff between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger and former NFL great Herschel Walker set to break or cement the current 50-50 deadlock.
“While county officials are still doing the detailed work on counting the votes, we feel it is safe to say there will be a runoff for the U.S. Senate here in Georgia slated for December 6,” Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, tweeted Wednesday.
Georgia election official says it's "safe to say" there will be a runoff next month. https://t.co/6p8J9k7ZJ9
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 9, 2022
On Tuesday, Warnock had 49.42% of the vote and Walker 48.52% with over 99% of the vote counted. Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver’s 2% kept Warnock and Walker from reaching the threshold for avoiding the runoff. The developments set up a replay of Jan. 5, 2021, when Georgia held runoff elections for both of its Senate seats, with Democrats Warnock, who was running against Kelly Loeffler to complete the term of the late Johnny Isakson, and Sen. Jon Ossoff winning both to forge the current 50-50 tie. Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, giving Democrats a de facto majority.
Huge amounts of money poured in from out of state in the Georgia runoffs for all four candidates, including then-incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue, who Ossoff defeated. Spending on the two races approached a record-smashing $1 billion, according to OpenSecrets.org. Perdue and Ossoff spent a combined $470 million, while the Loeffler and Warnock campaigns spent $363 million on the primary, general, and special elections.
With less than a month to go before a runoff in Georgia, both parties are expected to pour personnel and resources into the Peach State. Warnock, 53, and Walker, 60, are by now familiar foes after a bruising campaign that saw Walker criticize Warnock, a pastor, for allegedly poor treatment of tenants in a building his church owns. Walker, for his part, has denied paying for an abortion for a mistress, a claim put forward by his own son.
In the inconclusive general election, Warnock raised more than $101.7 million, while Walker raised $37 million.