CBS News projects that incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock wins the U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats their 51st seat in the Senate.
This will be Warnock's first full six-year term. In his victory speech, he noted his "hard-fought campaign" and said "the people have spoken" amid cheers of "six more years!"
"There are those who will look at the outcome and say that there's no voter suppression in Georgia," Warnock said. "Let me be clear. Just because people endured long lines, that wrapped around buildings, some blocks long, just because they endured the rain and cold and tricks in order to vote, doesn't mean voter suppression does not exist. It means that you the people have decided that your voices will not be silenced."
In the general election, Warnock topped Walker by over 37,000 votes, but with 49.4% of the vote, Warnock failed to cross the 50% threshold necessary to avoid a runoff.
A record-breaking number of early voters turned out in the runoff, smashing all previous records. According to one of the state's top elections official, Gabriel Sterling, over 1.8 million people voted early. Friday, the last day of early voting, was the single biggest early voting day ever, with more than 353,000 Georgians casting their ballots, according to Sterling.
Early voting for the runoff has been highest in several Democratic leaning counties around Atlanta, such as Fulton, Gwinnett and DeKalb County. Some GOP leaders are looking ahead to coming elections with the understanding that they must increase their own early voting numbers to be competitive.
"What we do need is, our voters need to vote early," RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said on Fox News earlier Tuesday. "I have said this over and over again. There were many in 2020 saying, 'Don't vote by mail, don't vote early,' and we have to stop that."
However, former President Trump has been saying the opposite — when he announced his third bid for the presidency, he called for "paper ballots, same-day voting, voter ID," and, he added, "we want all votes counted by election night."
Sinceand successfully defended the other seats in play in the November midterm elections, Democrats were guaranteed control of the Senate, regardless of the outcome on Tuesday. But they will have more power controlling the chamber 51-49 since they will not have to work out a power-sharing agreement with Republicans.
Walker picked up a last-minute endorsement from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and former President Donald Trump held a telerally for Walker over the weekend. Walker told CBS News' Nikole Killion on Tuesday morning that he believed they would win by 100,000 votes.
Warnock spent Tuesday with canvassers in get out the vote efforts. He told CBS News' Nikole Killion that he felt the early turnout was good for his campaign and "now we're going to win this election."
According to exit polls on Election Day, voters in Georgia were split in their views of the most important qualities in a candidate: 36% said it was most important that the candidate shared their values, while 32% said a candidate's honesty and integrity were most important to them.
Ahead of the general election, Walker's campaign was rocked in October bythat he paid for at least one woman to have an abortion. He has denied the allegations, and national Republicans stuck by him.
Georgia played a key role in the 2020 elections, when the races for both Senate seats went into , ultimately flipping both seats from Republican to Democratic. Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue led Jon Ossoff after Election Night with 49.7% of the vote, but he ended up falling short in the runoff on Jan. 5, 2021. In the race for the other seat, Warnock led incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a 21-person race on Election Day, and he prevailed in the special election to fill the vacancy left when Sen. Johnny Isakson stepped down.
Elizabeth Campbell and Aaron Navarro contributed to this report.
Obama congratulates Warnock
Former President Barack Obama posted a tweet early Wednesday congratulating incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock on retaining his seat in the runoff election against Republican Herschel Walker, saying, "Once again, Georgians have proven that when it comes time to vote, they'll show up and vote for a leader who will fight for them. Congratulations, @ReverendWarnock."
Obama stumped hard for Warnock in Georgia before the general election and again before the runoff, holding spirited rallies.
Biden calls Warnock to congratulate him
President Biden called Warnock to congratulate him on his win, the president posted on Twitter.
"Tonight Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and most importantly: sent a good man back to the Senate. Here's to six more years," Mr. Biden tweeted.
Warnock says "the people have spoken"
Warnock's crowd was enthusiastic as the senator and senator-elect expressed his gratitude.
"After a hard-fought campaign — or should I say, campaigns," Warnock said to cheering. "It is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken."
"I often say that a vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children," the reverend continued. "Voting is faith put into action. And Georgia, you have been praying with your lips and your legs. With your hands and your feet. Your heads and your hearts. You have put in the hard work, and here we are standing together."
Walker says he's "not going to make any excuses now because we put up one heckuva fight"
In brief remarks to his supporters, Walker acknowledged after the race was called for Warnock that the numbers don't add up for him.
"I don't want any of you to stop believing in America," Walker said. "I want you to believe in America and continue to believe in the Constitution and believe in our elected officials and most of all, continue to pray for them."
Walker didn't mention Warnock by name in his brief remarks. The former football star pointed to his faith, and thanked his wife for her support. He also thanked his team, saying they "put up with a lot."
"There's no excuses in life," Walker said. "And I'm not going to make any excuses now because we put up one heckuva fight."
Schumer says Warnock's projected win is a victory "for democracy"
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who will have one more vote in his chamber come Januar, said in a statement that Warnock's victory "shows once again that Democrats are in sync with America and MAGA Republicans are not."
"Reverend Warnock's well-earned win is not just a victory for Georgia, but also for democracy – as the last brick in our firewall against extremist MAGA Republican policies that threaten the very essence of our democracy," Schumer said. "Tonight, we celebrate – for my friend Raphael, for his beloved state of Georgia, for a Democratic Senate, and most of all, for our country. Tomorrow, we will roll up our sleeves and get back to work."
CBS News projects Warnock will beat Walker
CBS News projects Warnock will beat Walker and retain his seat in the Senate, securing Democrats 51 seats in the Senate.
Warnock's projected win strengthens Democrats' leverage in the Senate, allowing them to more easily confirm the president's nominees and making it less likely they'll often need Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties.
This is Warnock's first full six year term.
Long-term impacts of Georgia runoff on Capitol Hill
As votes in the Georgia runoff election are being tallied, political analysts are examining the long-term effects of the race on Capitol Hill. CBS News political correspondent Caitlin Huey-Burns and CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa joined "Red and Blue" to explain the lasting impacts heading into the 2024 presidential election.
"We're going to win Georgia," Biden says
President Biden offered an optimistic projection to reporters Tuesday night upon his return from a day trip to Phoenix.
"We're going to win," the president said, asked how he feels about the Peach State. "We're going to win Georgia."
CBS News characterizes the race as lean Democratic
CBS News characterizes Georgia Senate runoff race as leaning Democratic. This rating can change throughout the night as more precincts report their vote totals.
Polls close in Georgia Senate runoff election
Polls are now closed in Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is defending his Senate seat against Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff election. CBS News congressional correspondent Nikole Killion joined John Dickerson on "Prime Time" from Atlanta to discuss the latest.
Ossoff says election outcome "matter deeply to me and to every Georgian"
Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, who has been campaigning for Warnock, told CBS News' Nikole Killion on Tuesday that despite that the balance of power is already set, the runoff election is still important.
"Putting aside the national balance of power, national politics, it matters deeply to me and to every Georgian who represents us for the next years in the U.S. Senate," Ossoff said. "The contrast between Sen. Warnock and his opponent in character, in competence, in integrity is as vast as I've ever seen."
The polls have closed across the Peach State, although comprehensive results won't be available immediately. Anyone who was in line at a polling station before 7 p.m. can still cast a ballot.
Final day of voting in Georgia Senate runoff underway after hotly contested race
Tuesday is the final day of voting in Georgia's hotly contested Senate runoff. Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock is looking to defend his seat against Trump-backed challenger Herschel Walker. CBS News political reporter Aaron Navarro discussed the latest in Norcross, Georgia.
Biden set the "messaging" for Democrats in midterm elections, Jean-Pierre says
When asked if President Joe Biden would be doing any last-minute outreach in Georgia, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeated Tuesday that Mr. Biden had phonebanked for Warnock over the weekend. Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden set the "messaging" for Democrats in the midterm elections.
Mr. Biden did not travel to Georgia to campaign ahead of the runoff, although former President Barack Obama campaigned with Warnock over the weekend.