Republican Herschel Walker and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock are headed to a runoff election on Dec. 6.
The outcome of the 2022 midterms suggests that candidate quality still matters, as Republican nominees with serious personal baggage and extreme policy positions underperformed what was expected in an off-year election in nearly every corner of the country.
That was especially apparent in Georgia, where Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker has been dogged by revelations that he has multiple children whose existence he hadn't publicly acknowledged; allegedly paid for women to get abortions despite proclaiming to have anti-abortion views; and has lied about his resume. Walker massively underperformed the other Republicans on the ballot in Georgia.
While Republican Gov. Brian Kemp easily won reelection with 53.4% of the vote, Walker finished second behind Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in a race that's now headed to a Dec. 6 runoff.
As of Thursday, Warnock led Walker 49.4% to 48.5%. That result means at least 5% of voters who backed Kemp did not cast a ballot for Walker, and put Georgia on FiveThirtyEight's list of states in which voters split the ticket.
Political experts say Walker's inability to coalesce GOP voters behind him may sink his chances in a runoff.
"People voted for Kemp and they didn't vote for Walker. There's gotta be a reason for that. They couldn't stomach him," Stu Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political handicapper and longtime columnist for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, said in an interview with the American Independent Foundation.
That Walker had baggage was no secret.
When former President Donald Trump endorsed Walker and cleared the primary field for him, Republicans were worried that past accusations against Walker of violent behavior and lying could damage the party's chances of winning the seat.
CNN reported in August 2021 that, in the wake of reporting by the Associated Press that Walker's former wife had accused him of holding a gun to her head and threatening, "I'm going to blow your f'ing brains out, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was searching for an alternative candidate, as Republicans feared Walker "would implode" and "cost the GOP a winnable seat."
The AP article detailed Walker's lies about his business experience, reporting that he inflated the size of and revenue from a chicken processing business he owns. Walker claimed the company had 800 employees; however, in an application for a Paycheck Protection Program loan in 2020, the company declared it had just eight employees.
Despite Walker's troubled past, McConnell and the GOP got in line behind him after they decided that Trump's endorsement and Walker's celebrity as a football star would make him unbeatable in a primary.
The reports about Walker's lies continued.
In December 2021, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a report that Walker lied about graduating from college. Walker's campaign deleted from its website the false claim that he graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in criminal justice after the report was published.
In May, the Associated Press came out with a report that Walker had lied about starting a charity for veterans. The "charity" turned out to be a for-profit company that defrauded the government and preyed upon veterans.
In June, the Journal-Constitution reported that Walker had said he had worked as a law enforcement officer — which was a lie.
In July, the Daily Beast published reports that Walker had children whom he had never spoken about publicly — even keeping their existence from his own campaign staff.
Three members of the Walker campaign aides told the Daily Beast that Walker is a "pathological liar."
"He's lied so much that we don't know what's true," one of them said.
In October, the Daily Beast reported that Walker had paid for an abortion for a woman with whom he had a relationship, despite proclaiming to be against the procedure.
The revelation led Walker's son Christian to accuse him of "lying" and "making a mockery" of his family.
"Everything's been a lie. Everything's been downplayed. Everything's been cutting corners, the whole thing," Christian Walker said in a video posted to Twitter.
Both parties are expected to pour more money into campaign advertising leading up to the runoff.
Warnock's team said in a memo to reporters that Walker's underperformance of the rest of the Republican ticket in the state indicates that he is vulnerable in a second matchup.
"Not only did Walker underperform Governor Kemp, he earned fewer raw votes than every single Republican on the ballot. Of nine statewide Republican candidates, Walker was one of only two who failed to clear two million votes," the memo says. "Walker has shown he is completely unqualified for a job that requires knowledge of the issues and an interest in listening and learning more about what matters most to Georgians; honesty and an ability to take responsibility for one's actions and votes; and transparency and a willingness to answer questions."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.