Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker pushed incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock to a likely runoff for a key Senate seat Tuesday after both candidates appeared to fall short of earning more than 50% of the vote. 

Warnock had amassed 49.34% of the vote as of 3:07 a.m. Wednesday, with Walker drawing 48.6%, with 96.86% of precincts reporting, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s website. Libertarian Chase Oliver’s 2% of the vote was a distant third but enough to potentially put the two major-party candidates into a Dec. 6 runoff.

“We always knew this race would be close,” Warnock told supporters gathered at a downtown Atlanta hotel late Tuesday night. “Y’all just hang in there.”

“I don’t come to lose,” Walker told his supporters, who had gathered near Truist Park in Cobb County. “He’s going to be tough to beat … just hang in there a little bit longer.”

The two candidates both have deep roots in Georgia but differed sharply on the economy, abortion and gun rights on the campaign trail this fall.

Challenger Walker sought to identify Warnock with President Joe Biden and blame the Democrats for inflation. In contrast, Warnock touted the steps he has taken as a senator to reduce the effects of inflation on Georgians, such as instituting monthly caps on insulin prices and supporting college student loan debt relief.  

Walker opposes most gun control measures as unconstitutional and contended that the government should stay out of health care. Warnock, in contrast, strongly supports Medicaid expansion in Georgia and voted for a gun-control bill passed by Congress in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, shootings. 

Though Walker initially indicated he opposes all abortions, during an October debate, he said he supports Georgia’s law that bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. In contrast, Warnock said that he believes abortion is a private medical decision between patient and doctor and he believes women should have the right to choose an abortion.   

Despite Walker’s pro-life stance, two ex-girlfriends alleged he paid for their abortions, though Walker has denied these claims. Walker’s son also publicly criticized his father on social media. 

But Warnock also faced an allegation that he ran over his ex-wife’s foot during an argument, which he has denied.  

Ads for both candidates flooded Georgia airwaves and digital outlets. Warnock raised more than $100 million against Walker’s $37.7 million. But money appears to have made little difference in the outcome of the race, since neither candidate earned enough votes to prevent a runoff.

This will be the second time Warnock must win a runoff for the Senate seat. He first won his seat in a 2021 runoff that also drew national attention and dollars.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Rebecca Grapevine | Capitol Beat

Rebecca Grapevine is a journalist based in Atlanta.