2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (2024)

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Jonathan Weisman and Maya King

Warnock defeats Walker in Georgia’s Senate runoff.

ATLANTA — Senator Raphael Warnock defeated his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, in a runoff election that capped a grueling and costly campaign, securing a 51-seat Democratic majority and giving the first Black senator from Georgia a full six-year term.

Mr. Warnock’s victory was called by The Associated Press late Tuesday evening as the senator’s lead was expanding to 51 percent compared with Mr. Walker’s 49 percent. It ended a marathon midterm election cycle in which Democrats defied history, limiting the loss of House seats that typically greets the party that holds the White House, and now gaining a seat in the Senate.

Throughout one of the most expensive Senate races in American history, Mr. Warnock used the cadences and lofty language he honed as the senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church to ask Georgia voters to rise above the acrimony and division of Donald J. Trump’s politics.

“I am Georgia,” he proclaimed Tuesday night in Atlanta, invoking the martyrs and heroes of the civil rights movement and the small towns and growing cities of his childhood. “I am an example and an iteration of its history, of its peril and promise, of the brutality and the possibilities. But because this is America, because we always have a path to make our country greater against unspeakable odds, here we stand together.”

He uttered what he called the four most powerful words in a democracy: “The people have spoken.”

The defeat of Mr. Walker, who was handpicked by Mr. Trump, culminated a disastrous year for the former president, who set himself up as a Republican kingmaker, only to watch his Senate candidates in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire — as well as his picks for governor in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia — go on to defeat in primaries or in last month’s general election.

Mr. Walker’s loss will almost certainly lead to soul-searching for a Republican Party that must decide heading into the 2024 election how firmly to tether itself to a former president who has now absorbed powerful political blows in three successive campaign cycles. An exhausted-looking Mr. Walker spoke only briefly after his defeat, asking his supporters at an event at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, “We’ve had a tough journey, have we not?” He added, “God is good.”

The Georgia result also holds a bold message about race in the rising New South.

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Mr. Warnock was the first Black person from Georgia to be elected to the Senate when he won a 2021 runoff. Republicans chose another Black candidate to try to deny him a full term — a former football star with no political experience and little ideological depth — elevating the role of race and identity in a contest where the Republican candidate denied the existence of racism and the Democrat spoke of painful injustices that have yet to be remedied.

Now, with six years ahead of him in the chamber, Mr. Warnock will remain part of a stunningly small group: Of the more than 2,000 people who have served in the United States Senate, only 11 have been Black. Of the Senate’s 100 current members, just three are Black: Mr. Warnock; Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey; and Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina.

Mr. Warnock’s campaign officials said on Tuesday that they intentionally treaded lightly on the racial dynamics of the matchup against Mr. Walker, understanding that a heavy-handed message on race could alienate moderate white voters. Mr. Warnock was also wary of running a negative campaign while maintaining his post behind the pulpit of a high-profile church.

Instead, in the final weeks of the general election campaign, the Warnock team segued to a violent episode from Mr. Walker’s past. The campaign and allied groups poured more money into advertisem*nts highlighting the account of Mr. Walker’s ex-wife, who said he had threatened her life.

In the general election in November, Mr. Warnock, 53, finished ahead of Mr. Walker by about 37,000 votes. But neither candidate cleared the 50 percent threshold needed to win, sending the race into a runoff. Under Georgia’s new election law, the runoff period was shortened to four weeks from nine, giving both campaigns little time to regroup, adjust their strategies and mobilize voters to return to the polls.

Mr. Warnock’s aides also credited the lawsuit their campaign and other Democratic groups filed against the state of Georgia to lift a ban on early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. They won the lawsuit and cleared the way for more than two dozen counties — a majority of which favored Democrats — to open their doors for voters.

To Republicans who have said the strong turnout in the general election and the runoff showed the absence of any voter suppression, Mr. Warnock disagreed. “Just because people endured long lines that wrapped around buildings, some blocks long, just because they endured the rain and the cold and all kinds of tricks in order to vote,” Mr. Warnock said, “doesn’t mean that voter suppression does not exist. It simply means that you, the people, have decided that your voices will not be silenced.”

Mr. Warnock and his Democratic allies funneled millions of dollars into the race, outspending Mr. Walker by more than two to one in less than a month. By the final week of the runoff campaign, Mr. Warnock had topped $53 million on the airwaves, while Republicans had spent only $24 million. That was just a fraction of the $400 million spent in total on the race by the candidates, their committees and outside groups during the midterm election cycle, according to OpenSecrets, a group that tracks money in politics.

Mr. Warnock won with overwhelming support from Black voters, who make up one-third of Georgia’s electorate and are integral to its Democratic base. Black voters in Georgia expressed disappointment, even anger, on Tuesday at what they saw as an effort to manipulate them to support a flawed Republican candidate who they believed had been selected because of his race by political figures who would dictate his actions.

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“Herschel Walker is a product of Georgia politics,” Aisha Horan, 47, said after casting her ballot on Tuesday for Mr. Warnock at the Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta. “Someone looked around and said: ‘We need to counter Warnock, especially for those Black folks. Let’s just stack the deck against them a little bit more.’”

But Mr. Warnock also won a key slice of support from moderates in the state, a group he paid extra attention to in the runoff campaign. Luke Maran, 23, an independent voter and mechanical engineering student at Georgia Tech, said he agreed with conservative economic principles of efficiency and low taxation, and had his qualms about the extremes of liberal social policies. But ultimately, he said, he voted for Mr. Warnock as the more qualified candidate.

Republicans struggled to articulate a message to galvanize their voters after Democrats secured Senate control during the general election. And while Mr. Walker, 60, used his fame to vault to the top of the Republican candidate field, he made a series of missteps and contended with a near-constant flow of damaging headlines about his personal life and business career.

He did not dispute his ex-wife’s previously aired accusations of domestic violence. But he was also accused, for the first time, of fathering children he had not previously disclosed, exaggerating and lying about his business prowess, and urging women he was in relationships with to have abortions. His campaign denied all of these claims.

Those scandals and a series of nonsensical verbal diatribes — on the relative merits of werewolves and vampires, China’s “bad air” and a bull on the wrong side of a fence eyeing several cows — appeared to have a profound impact on his standing, especially with Black men, some of whom saw Mr. Walker as the white power structure’s mistaken idea of a candidate who would appeal to them.

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“It was embarrassing, and I heard other Black men in my circle talk about their embarrassment,” Rachman Holdman, a 48-year-old information technology manager in Sandy Springs, said after voting for Mr. Warnock on Tuesday.

An array of Republican figures visited the state regularly to bolster Mr. Walker’s campaign during the runoff period, including Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida.

But in the final days, Mr. Walker held few events — and he disappeared from the campaign trail altogether during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, baffling his G.O.P. allies who saw it as a crucial window. By Election Day, he appeared to be unable to encourage a sizable portion of moderate voters, particularly those who had supported Gov. Brian Kemp in the general election, to turn back out for him.

Mr. Kemp, a Republican, had to walk a fine line in the runoff, preserving his political capital in a contest that was trending away from the G.O.P. while appearing to lend enough support to Mr. Walker to maintain his reputation as a devoted party leader.

Complicating the issue for Mr. Kemp was Mr. Trump. The former president had urged a former Republican senator, David Perdue, to challenge the governor in the primary in May. Mr. Trump wanted revenge for Mr. Kemp’s refusal to back his attempt to overturn his defeat in Georgia by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020.

Mr. Kemp easily defeated Mr. Perdue in the spring, only to be left propping up Mr. Trump’s Senate candidate in the fall.

Alyce McFadden and Richard Fausset contributed reporting.

Dec. 7, 2022, 12:58 a.m. ET

Dec. 7, 2022, 12:58 a.m. ET

Jonathan Weisman

In a soaring victory speech, Warnock declares, ‘here we stand together.’

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2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (4)

ATLANTA — Senator Raphael Warnock, basking in cheers of “six more years” and the glory of a hard-fought re-election victory, evoked the civil rights movement late Tuesday night as he praised Georgians, whether they voted for him or not, for rising above the “folks trying to divide our country.”

In a contest that pitted Mr. Warnock’s calls for the healing of racial inequities against Herschel Walker’s view that racism does not exist, the Democratic senator’s victory speech was unapologetic in its evocation of past wrongs in the Deep South, even as he held out the promise of reconciliation.

“I am Georgia,” the senator said. “I am an example and an iteration of its history, of its peril and promise, of the brutality and the possibilities. But because this is America, because we always have a path to make our country greater against unspeakable odds, here we stand together.”

He addressed those who point to the results of the race as proof that there was no voter suppression in Georgia. He said that just because people stood in blocks-long lines in the cold to cast their ballots did not mean voter suppression did not exist.

“It simply means that you, the people, have decided that your voices will not be silenced,” he said.

Responding to the impromptu comments of the audience around him, as if standing at the pulpit on a Sunday at his Atlanta church, his remarks often blended the personal with the political.

“I want to say thank you to my mother, who is here tonight,” he told the crowd. “You’ll see her in a little while. But she grew up in the 1950s in Waycross, Ga., picking somebody else’s cotton and somebody else’s tobacco. But tonight she helped pick her youngest son to be a United States senator.”

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Dec. 7, 2022, 12:53 a.m. ET

Dec. 7, 2022, 12:53 a.m. ET

Ken Bensinger

Christian Walker lashed out at his father, and the G.O.P., after the Senate race was called.

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Christian Walker, the estranged son of Herschel Walker, unleashed a string of fiery tweets late Tuesday after his father, a Republican, was defeated in Georgia’s Senate race. He lashed out at both his father and Republican leadership, accusing them of betraying him and the party.

A right-wing influencer with half a million followers on Instagram and another 250,000 on TikTok, Mr. Walker called his father a “backstabber” and claimed the Republican Party cynically made him their candidate mainly “because he was the same skin color as his opponent.” He also wrote that former President Donald J. Trump courted the elder Mr. Walker for months, “DEMANDING that he run.”

The first tweet was posted just four minutes before The Associated Press called the runoff for Senator Raphael Warnock, the elder Mr. Walker’s Democratic opponent. In all, the younger Mr. Walker posted eight times, ending with a tribute to his mother, saying he was “so happy she can rest now, and this bull crap is over with.

The younger Mr. Walker rose to national prominence in October, after being critical of his father following a series of scandals — including that he had three children that he had not previously mentioned publicly and that he’d paid for an abortion for a former girlfriend and encouraged her to have a second abortion, despite being staunchly pro-life (a second unnamed woman later said he paid for her to have an abortion, too).

Mr. Walker denied the abortion allegations and, after his son’s October outburst, tweeted: “I LOVE my son no matter what.”

But he has been largely quiet since then, a silence he attributed on Tuesday night to his desire not to “swing voters to Warnock.”

In an impromptu session Tuesday night on Twitter Spaces, the social media site’s live audio platform, the younger Mr. Walker said that with the Georgia contest decided, he could speak freely.

The wide-ranging monologue was delivered to more than 1,300 listeners, with Mr. Walker repeatedly saying he was a longtime supporter of Mr. Trump. But he accused the former president of incorrectly assuming that his father would win because “he’s Georgia royalty” without realizing “he’s not a good candidate.” He said that his preferred candidate for the 2024 presidential race would be Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Mr. Walker attacked Senator Lindsey Graham, saying that both Democrats and Republicans disliked him and that his father should not have campaigned with him, which he did multiple times throughout the race. He also recounted his own surreal experience of learning that he has three half-siblings through reports in the national media and feeling outraged at his father’s dishonesty.

“He would lie to the campaign and then the journalists would come out and find the story,” said Mr. Walker, who lives in Miami. “It was just absurd.”

Chase Oliver, the Libertarian candidate whose losing bid in the Senate race in November helped push the contest into a runoff, called in to wish the younger Mr. Walker the best and said: “I’m glad this is over for you.” He also proposed ranked-choice voting in Georgia and said that if Herschel Walker had reached out to him directly, he might have been able to encourage his supporters — he earned about 80,000 general election votes — to vote for him.

In a bizarre moment, a person identifying himself as Chi Ossé, a sitting member of the New York City Council, called into the audio platform to tell Mr. Walker he was a “huge fan” despite being a “radical leftist.”

In response to a question about his own political ambitions, the younger Mr. Walker laughed, saying he would “never” run for office.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (6)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:56 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:56 p.m. ET

Reid Epstein

And this is it for the 2022 midterm elections — with the one exception of Colorado’s Third Congressional District, where Representative Lauren Boebert leads as a recount is underway.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (7)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:43 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:43 p.m. ET

Reid Epstein

Tonight’s results finish a brutal 2022 for Senate Republicans and major statewide G.O.P. candidates backed by former President Donald J. Trump. They didn’t flip any Democratic seats in the chamber and lost one Republican-held one.

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2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (8)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:41 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:41 p.m. ET

Maya King

Warnock's victory speech was heavy on the themes he has mentioned throughout his campaign, and the same allusions often heard from the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist. He also pointed to the historical significance of his securing a six-year term. “Let’s dance because we deserve it,” he told a crowd of his supporters. “But tomorrow we go back into the valley to do the work.”

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (9)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:38 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:38 p.m. ET

Reid Epstein

President Biden tweeted that he called Raphael Warnock to congratulate him on winning. “Here’s to six more years,” he wrote.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (10)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:21 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:21 p.m. ET

Maya King

“I am Georgia,” Warnock says in his victory speech. “I am an example and an iteration of its history, of its pain and its promise.”

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (11)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:17 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:17 p.m. ET

Jonathan Weisman

Warnock utters what he called the four most powerful words spoken in a democracy: “The people have spoken.”

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2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (12)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:14 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:14 p.m. ET

Jonathan Weisman

At 11:11 p.m., Warnock enters to Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and chants of “six more years.”

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2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (13)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:07 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:07 p.m. ET

Jonathan Weisman

As Walker was speaking, the DJ at the Warnock party spun “Hit the Road Jack” while the crowd sang at top volume.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (14)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:07 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:07 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Walker spoke for under five minutes. He did not mention whether he had spoken to Warnock about conceding the race. In fact, he did not mention Warnock at all.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (15)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:04 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:04 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Herschel Walker, looking tired, appears on stage alone except for his wife, Julie. “We’ve had a tough journey, have we not?” he said. He adds: “God is good.” And, “I’m never going to stop fighting for Georgia.”

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2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (16)

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:00 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 11:00 p.m. ET

Jonathan Weisman

With Warnock’s re-election in the books, 2022 is the first midterm since 1934 that the party in power successfully defended every incumbent Senate seat, according to the Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC. His victory also makes him the first Southern Senate Democrat to win re-election since Mary Landrieu of Louisiana did it in 2008.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (17)

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:43 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:43 p.m. ET

Maya King

As supporters wait for Warnock to take the stage, the DJ at his election night party is playing all the hits. In the last 15 minutes we’ve gotten everything from T-Pain to ABBA.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (18)

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:40 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:40 p.m. ET

Maya King

Christian Walker has just put out a couple of tweets criticizing his father’s campaign as the race is called for Warnock: “Don’t beat women, hold guns to people’s heads, fund abortions and claim you’re pro-life.” He added, “and then maybe you can win a Senate seat.”

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (19)

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:37 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:37 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

A pall settles over the Walker election night party as more news outlets call the race for Warnock. An impromptu prayer circle forms in the center of the ballroom. A preacher shouts: “Where there is lack, make up for it right now! Where there is disturbance, bring shalom, right now!”

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2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (20)

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:30 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:30 p.m. ET

Maya King

Warnock’s margin of victory comes from the heavily Black, Democratic areas around Metro Atlanta. His victory again undercuts the thesis held by many in the G.O.P., that running a Black male conservative would cut into Democrats’ gains with the group.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (21)

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:28 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:28 p.m. ET

Maya King

The crowd at Raphael Warnock’s election night party has just erupted into applause as his victory was projected. The senator is expected to address the crowd shortly.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (22)

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:23 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:23 p.m. ET

Reid Epstein

The transformation of Atlanta’s suburbs from Republican to Democratic strongholds over the last decade is truly remarkable. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney won 56 percent of the vote in Cobb County and 54 percent in Gwinnett County. Tonight, Raphael Warnock is at 60 percent or more in both – margins that have turned Georgia from a safe state for Republicans to one Democrats can win.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (23)

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:14 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:14 p.m. ET

Reid Epstein

President Biden predicts a victory for Democrats. “We’re going to win. We’re going to win Georgia,” he told reporters upon exiting Air Force One this evening at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Washington.

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2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (24)

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:06 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 10:06 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

At Walker’s party, Ginger Howard, Republican national committeewoman for Georgia, takes the stage and tells the crowd that the race is far from over (even though returns suggest an uphill fight for Walker from here). “Keep your spirits high,” she says. “We love Herschel.”

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (25)

Dec. 6, 2022, 9:54 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 9:54 p.m. ET

Nate Cohn

The race may be close, but almost all of the remaining vote is in the Atlanta area, where Warnock will very likely pad his lead.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (26)

Dec. 6, 2022, 9:48 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 9:48 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Herschel Walker’s party at the College Football Hall of Fame has been a subdued affair so far, with occasional whoops whenever Fox News shows Walker teetering into the lead in the partly counted vote tally. co*cktails are going for $11. The post-9 p.m. soundtrack includes “Sweet Home Alabama” and Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

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2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (27)

Dec. 6, 2022, 9:46 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 9:46 p.m. ET

Jonathan Weisman

Mayor Andre Dickens of Atlanta, predicting victory for Warnock, proclaimed, “I’m not talking about somebody who I think will do a good job. I’m talking about somebody who does a great job for this city and this state every single day.”

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Dec. 6, 2022, 7:29 p.m. ET

Dec. 6, 2022, 7:29 p.m. ET

Michael C. Bender

The key statistics about Trump’s endorsem*nt track record this year.

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Former President Donald J. Trump planned to use the 2022 midterm elections as a show of political strength. Georgia voters had other thoughts.

The loss by Herschel Walker, the Republican whom Mr. Trump pushed to run in the state’s U.S. Senate race, delivers another blow to the former president in a state that has been emblematic of his struggles when it comes to endorsem*nts of election deniers, revenge candidates and battleground contenders.

In Georgia, Mr. Trump’s slate of election deniers lost their primary bids against Republicans who repulsed the former president’s efforts to overturn Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s 2020 presidential victory. Gov. Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, survived those challenges and then coasted to re-election victories last month.

Here’s a recap of some key statistics from Mr. Trump’s endorsem*nt campaign this year:

  • 82 percent: Mr. Trump endorsed more than 250 candidates, and his 82 percent success rate is, on the surface, impressive. But the vast majority of those endorsem*nts were of incumbents and heavy favorites to win.

  • 8-2, 6-2: The former president set out to replace the 10 House Republicans who supported his impeachment. During the primary season, eight either lost challenges or retired before facing voters, while two survived. Among the eight Trump-endorsed challengers, six won general election contests and two lost to Democrats.

  • 0-5: In the 36 most competitive House races, as determined by Cook Political Report, Mr. Trump endorsed candidates in five contests. All five lost.

  • 1-5: Mr. Trump spent heavily on behalf of other candidates for the first time, and the results weren’t good. In the seven races across six states where Mr. Trump’s super PAC spent money, last month he won one (Ohio Senate) and lost five (Arizona governor and Senate, Michigan governor, Nevada Senate, Pennsylvania Senate). Tuesday night he lost the sixth in Georgia.

2022 Midterm Elections: Warnock Beats Walker, Giving Democrats 51st Senate Seat (Published 2022) (2024)
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