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Essential Politics: With Senate control uncertain, Georgia heads to another runoff

Close-ups of Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker
Georgia’s Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, left, and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
(Associated Press)
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Democrats managed to defy pundits and political history in Tuesday’s midterm elections, winning more races than expected and ensuring that Republicans’ House majority will be much smaller than anticipated.

As of this morning, Democrats still have a shot at holding the House.

Control of the Senate also remains up in the air and will come down to the results in three states: Arizona, Nevada and Georgia.

In Arizona, the Democratic candidate is leading by about five points; in Nevada, the candidates are running neck-and-neck. Both races remain too close to call and likely won’t be settled for a few more days, at the earliest.

In Georgia? We have to wait another month. As happened in 2020, that race is heading to a runoff.

Hello friends, I’m Erin B. Logan. I cover national politics for the L.A. Times. Today, we are going to discuss what is happening in the Peach State.

Why didn’t the GOP candidate win in Georgia?

Georgia Republicans had a great Tuesday night. Despite defying former President Trump and certifying the state 2020 presidential election results, RepublicanGov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger easily won reelection.

But their strong campaigns did not provide much of a boost for Trump’s hand-picked Senate candidate: Herschel Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner who played at the University of Georgia. Walker did not collect more than 50% of the vote. Neither did his opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Under state law, that means both will face off again on Dec. 6.

The race has long drawn intense attention from both parties because the winner could help tip the balance of power in the Senate. Political insiders and handicappers believed that a GOP candidate in the mold of Kemp would have put Democrats on the defensive (Kemp won 53% of the vote). That’s because the president’s party usually suffers election losses during midterms, inflation has taken hold, and President Biden’s approval rating has been pretty low for more than a year.

But Republicans chose the Trump-endorsed Walker as their nominee. A political novice, Walker ran a pretty lackluster campaign and struggled to surmount criticism about his inexperience, far-right views and allegations by an ex-wife that he engaged in violent behavior. He allegedly threatened the life of a former wife and previously said he was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.

Then came accusations that the anti-abortion Walker (he supports a ban on the procedure with no exceptions) had paid for an ex-partner’s abortion and had urged at least another woman to obtain one.

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Such hypocrisy drew criticism from Democrats — and Walker’s son, Christian, who blasted his father for allegedly lying to the public about paying for the abortion.

The fact that even Christian — who has a large and dedicated social media following — so openly challenged his dad caused some Georgia Republicans to express pessimism about the general election. The feeling has carried over into the runoff.

Can Walker beat Warnock?

Both parties are pouring millions of dollars into the race. Walker reportedly raised $3.3 million on Wednesday, the first day of campaigning. He has drawn support from high-profile senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, who have flocked to the state to stump.

Democrats are doing the same. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced a $7-million investment to help Warnock’s campaign.

The tone of the race has also shifted. Warnock shied from dunking on Walker for his private life for much of the campaign. But at an Atlanta rally this week, he blasted his opponent over his past.

“We’ve seen that Herschel Walker has a disturbing history pattern of violence against women, against his own family,” Warnock said. “And he refuses even to answer questions. So the question right now is this: Is that who we want representing Georgia?”

The runoff will be one to watch, not just because it may determine congressional control, but also because it is historic. Regardless of who wins, a Black man will go to the Senate. In its long history, the august upper chamber has had just 11 Black members.

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The latest from the California midterm elections

—Eleven competitive congressional races in California that could end up determining the balance of power in the House were too close to call Wednesday, Times writers Hannah Fry and Tyrone Beason reported. Congressional campaigns expressed cautious optimism as election officials continue tallying votes, a process that could take weeks. With the prospect of the House majority on the line, the entire nation may be kept in suspense because California is notoriously slow in tabulating votes — a scenario few expected in the lead-up to election day.

—The already close Los Angeles mayor’s race grew even tighter Thursday, with businessman Rick Caruso’s lead over U.S. Rep. Karen Bass reduced to just 2,695 votes, down from his 12,282-vote advantage a day earlier, Times writers James Rainey and Benjamin Oreskes reported. Caruso has 50.25% of the vote to Bass’ 49.75%, according to county election officials. Before Thursday’s update, he held a 2.5-percentage-point lead. The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office promised another update on Friday.

—Los Angeles school board President Kelly Gonez is in a surprisingly tight contest with challenger Marvin Rodriguez for a Board of Education seat representing the east San Fernando Valley, Times writer Howard Blume reported. In a second board contest — to represent downtown and the Eastside — Maria Brenes holds a small lead over Rocio Rivas.

—Republican Rep. Young Kim, who in 2020 was one of the first Korean American women to be elected to Congress, fended off a challenge from Democrat Dr. Asif Mahmood to secure a second term, Times writer Hannah Fry reported. Democrats had listed the affluent, suburban, mostly Orange County district as a target for flipping, despite Republicans’ more than 4-percentage-point voter registration advantage. However, the campaigns largely flew under the radar in recent months, outshined by competitive races in other Orange County districts.

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The view from Washington

—A U.S. judge in Texas on Thursday blocked President Biden’s plan to provide millions of borrowers with up to $20,000 apiece in federal student loan forgiveness — a program that was already on hold as a federal appeals court in St. Louis considers a legal challenge by six states, the Associated Press reported. District Judge Mark Pittman, an appointee of former President Trump based in Fort Worth, said the program usurped Congress’ power to make laws.

—This election cycle, some Democrats deployed a risky strategy — helping their Republican opponents, I reported. The idea behind the scheme was to persuade Republican primary voters to send their most extreme candidates to the general election, with the hope that swing voters wouldn’t be able to stomach them. The strategy was risky. If they miscalculated, they would be complicit in sending extremists to governors’ mansions and to Congress. If such candidates lost, the legitimacy of the election could be contested, further destabilizing American democracy. Before Tuesday’s election, even some White House aides were complaining privately about the risks their allies had taken. So far, the strategy has been successful in general elections.

—Supreme Court justices sounded sharply split Wednesday on whether to strike down a federal child custody law that seeks to keep Native American children with tribal families, Times writer David G. Savage reported. The court’s three liberals, joined by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, strongly defended the law. Meanwhile, four of the court’s conservatives were skeptical of the race-based preferences in the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, saying they sometimes prevent adoptions that might be in the best interest of the child. The issue arose in Texas after the Navajo Nation intervened to block the adoption of a baby by a white couple in Fort Worth who had been fostering the child for nearly a year.

—At his election night party Tuesday, Kevin McCarthy was heralded as the next speaker of the House, Times writer Nolan D. McCaskill reported. But Republicans on Wednesday found little to celebrate as disappointing results rolled in from battleground districts across the country and the much-touted red wave failed to materialize.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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