Control of the Senate next year will come down to just a handful of competitive races, and Georgia’s might just be the most hotly contested. Last month, FiveThirtyEight ranked Georgia a “tipping point” state and “the key to control of the Senate.” Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democrat, is running for a full term against Heisman-winning football great Herschel Walker.
The campaign has been largely driven by Walker, and not in a positive way: Even before it was reported that the staunchly pro-life and pro-family candidate had paid for multiple abortions and was an absent father to three illegitimate children, Walker’s personal foibles were fodder for news coverage.
(Chase Oliver, the Libertarian candidate, is also in the race and averaging around 4 percent of the vote. He previously told Reason that he hoped enough voters would abandon Walker to get him into a runoff with Warnock, but poll numbers have not budged since.)
The race is attracting a lot of national attention. Still, the unserious nature of Walker’s candidacy has largely overshadowed the seriousness of a race that could decide control of the Senate.
For example, Warnock has faced abuse allegations from an ex-wife, who claimed that he ran over her foot in March 2020. (According to police reports cited by Politifact, responding officers “did not see any signs” it had been run over, and paramedics were “not able to locate any swelling, redness, or bruising or broken bones.”) Any curiosity about Warnock’s issues was crowded out by Walker’s record of threatening a shootout with police and stalking an ex-wife who later told ABC News that he put a gun to her head and said “I’m going to blow your f’ing brains out.”
In July, Politico reported that Warnock used campaign funds to fight a lawsuit unrelated to his service in the Senate, a potential violation of election law. The suit, which was later dismissed as meritless, was filed during his time as a senator, but the allegations dated from many years earlier. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) requesting an investigation, followed by “the appropriate penalties and remedial action.” But that story, which hinges on the interpretation of technicalities in campaign law, is not as easily digestible as what was reported about Walker around that time: Walker long claimed he “worked for law enforcement,” either as “an agent” of the FBI or as an “honorary deputy” with multiple police departments. But The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the FBI and those departments all denied any official relationship with Walker, and a former Georgia district attorney told the paper that such honorifics confer “absolutely no law enforcement authority.”
Despite his challenge to debate Warnock “any time, any day,” Walker only agreed to one time and day to debate. He skipped a second debate held days later, which included Oliver and an empty lectern to stand in for Walker.
Amid the mudslinging and negative partisanship, the debate did yield some interesting moments and bold propositions. Walker mentioned energy independence as a top priority, saying “We’re going to our enemies to ask for gas and oil, and that puts us not just in an inflation problem, but it puts us in a national security problem.” He even mentions the issue on his campaign website. Both candidates also opposed a federal minimum wage, and each advocated a more holistic approach to increasing wages without a federal mandate.
And yet, one exchange stood out: After Warnock cited his opponent’s history of “pretend[ing] to be a police officer” and “threaten[ing] a shootout with the police,” Walker produced an honorary sheriff’s badge from his jacket pocket and proclaimed, “I am—worked with many police officers.”
The bizarre moment dominated post-debate coverage. Intent on capitalizing on the moment, Walker printed 1,000 imitation badges to give out as fundraising incentives. And yet the actual substance of the debate—the things each candidate said he would do in office and the affirmative case for his respective candidacy—was largely ignored, displaced by the spectacle of Walker’s prop work.
Unfortunately, that is not unique to this race: As Reason‘s Eric Boehm wrote about the candidates in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, “Neither man seems to have proven that he is deserving or capable of being a potential tie-breaking vote on issues affecting all Americans for the next six years. But one of them will win, largely by not being the other guy.” The same could be said of Walker and Warnock, each of whom spent much more time warning voters away from his opponent rather than talking up his own candidacy.
In Georgia, if no candidate gets a simple majority, then the top two finalists compete in a runoff. Walker currently maintains a narrow lead, but both candidates are polling around 45 percent, with Oliver in the mix. Barring a very last-minute surge of support, the race is almost certain to go to a runoff in January.
Late-season polls seem to indicate a general shift toward Republicans. On the other hand, Warnock earned his seat in the first place by pulling off an upset in a January runoff. But in either case, Georgians would be sending a man to the Senate with insufficient attention paid to the actual issues that would affect both their state and the nation. Walker’s outlandish behavior and personal foibles distracted from what should have been a substantive contest for control of a house of Congress.