One month after Election Day, Sen. Raphael Warnock’s win in the Georgia Senate runoff finally ended the 2022 midterms on Tuesday night. The Democrat incumbent’s victory over former Georgia football star Herschel Walker served as the grand finale of the entire election cycle, and strengthened Democratic control over the US Senate while setting the stage for 2024.
These are three of the biggest winners — and three of the biggest losers — of the night.
Loser: Herschel Walker
It wasn’t just that Herschel Walker lost on Tuesday night. It was how he lost.
Walker became a national laughingstock during his campaign. The losing Republican seemed to be a constant font of scandal. Almost daily, there was a new revelation about Walker fathering children out of wedlock, about his alleged domestic abuse, and about the anti-abortion politician paying for abortions. Walker has denied the latter two allegations. It was so bad that his son even celebrated Walker’s loss on Twitter.
On top of that, Walker was a historically awful candidate. He was prone to confusing riffs on topics like werewolves fighting vampires while on the stump and managed to fumble interviews even with friendly conservative outlets. The result was that he was often chaperoned by incumbent Republican senators like Lindsey Graham or Ted Cruz when appearing on television and sat smiling while they answered questions.
Walker had a problematic history and had even written a book about his history of mental illness, in which he confessed to domestic violence. But before his run, he was best known as a legendary football player at the University of Georgia who led the Bulldogs to a national championship in 1980.
Now he has become a political punchline who is as much known for his failed, scandal-filled Senate bid as for his football stardom.
Loser: Donald Trump
The midterms were a disaster for Donald Trump, and Warnock’s win merely added an exclamation point to the former president’s failure to establish himself as a general election kingmaker.
Walker had been Trump’s personal choice as a Senate candidate in Georgia and turned out to be the only Republican statewide candidate to lose in the Peach State in 2022. In contrast, other Georgia Republicans like Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger not only romped to victory in their primaries against Trump-backed challengers but won comfortably in November, running far ahead of Walker.
In other swing states, Trump-backed Senate candidates suffered embarrassing losses, including Blake Masters in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, along with a host of other candidates who embraced the former president’s lies about the 2020 presidential election. While Trump has maintained his base in the party, Walker’s loss serves to reinforce why so many other Republicans are skeptical about his 2024 campaign: It’s increasingly clear that Trump drives away the swing voters that the GOP needs to win.
Winner: Joe Manchin
Warnock’s win means that Democrats now have 51 seats in the Senate, and that gives Sen. Joe Manchin a lot more freedom.
While the West Virginia Democrat will no longer play kingmaker on policy as he has for the past two years in the Senate, he now faces a reelection bid in 2024. Although any campaign in deep-red West Virginia will be an uphill battle for Manchin — already, Republican Rep. Alex Mooney has launched a campaign bid and incumbent Gov. Jim Justice is exploring as well — the extra Democratic vote in the Senate gives Manchin breathing room to distance himself from more progressive Democrats and make the case to voters about his political independence. It means Democrats don’t need Manchin’s vote for everything and that the West Virginia Democrat can safely vote against his party.
Winner: Kamala Harris
Warnock’s win means that, after two long years, Vice President Kamala Harris doesn’t have to do the job that the Constitution mandates her to do. The founders only gave the vice president one explicit duty: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”
And for the past two years, the Senate has been 50-50 Republican and Democrat. That meant Harris has had to cast 26 tiebreaking votes in less than two years in office. Now, with Democrats having 51 seats in the Senate, Harris is slightly less tied to her day job and has more freedom to serve a role in the executive branch.
The Democratic majority in the Senate would free up Harris to leave Washington and not only fulfill a traditional duty of vice presidents, attending funerals overseas as a representative of the US government, but also to hit the road as a surrogate for the White House.
Winner: Blue Georgia
Georgia is still a swing state. Even after Democrats had key victories there in 2020, with Joe Biden winning the general election and Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff winning their Senate seats in a runoff, there was still some question over quite how much Georgia had shifted.
After all, Biden’s win was so narrow it took days to call, and the runoff happened in early January as Trump was loudly pushing his complaints about the 2020 election. And, this November, Republicans swept their statewide races, with Kemp easily brushing aside Democrat Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 race. Georgia’s realignment was made clear by Warnock easily winning Cobb County, prosperous suburbs north of Atlanta that had been the fulcrum of Republican efforts to turn Georgia red in the late 20th century. Southwest of Atlanta, Warnock almost won Fayette County, where the metropolis’s suburbs turn to exurbs. With metro Atlanta dominating the state, Warnock’s margins in these areas hint that demographic trends in Georgia will only continue to boost Democrats in the short term.
Loser: Mitch McConnell
For the third time, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell will fail to regain the Senate majority in a cycle where Republican primary voters nominated weak candidates.
In 2010, Democrats held the Senate by the skin of their teeth after Republicans nominated weak candidates in states like Delaware, Colorado, and Nevada. In 2012, the same thing happened as Republicans nominated candidates like Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, who both made gaffes about rape during their campaigns. The cycle repeated itself in 2022 when Trump-backed candidates like Masters, Oz, and Walker cost Republicans seats.
The result is that McConnell will spend another two years in the minority, being forced to play defense against Senate Democrats and unable to block Biden’s nominees.