Democratic US Senator Raphael Warnock won re-election in a hard-fought Georgia runoff on Tuesday, expanding his party's razor-thin majority as he turned back a challenge by Republican former football star Herschel Walker, Edison Research projected.
With 97% of the expected vote counted and Warnock commanding a lead of 50.6% to 49.4%, Edison projected that Warnock had won reelection.
Warnock's victory cements Georgia as a battleground state certain to play a prominent role in the 2024 presidential election. Democrats have now won three Senate races in the past two years in the former Republican stronghold and Democratic President Joe Biden carried the state in 2020.
Walker's defeat is also a setback for Donald Trump as he seeks the Republican nomination to run for the White House again in 2024. The former president endorsed Walker and dozens of other high-profile Republicans in this year's midterm elections, but he ends with a mixed record in his most competitive contests.
Several hundred Warnock supporters gathered in an Atlanta ballroom erupted in applause when US television networks called the race.
Many began dancing, some held their drinks in the air, and others took selfies to memorialise the moment. The group, a mix of young people, political activists, and wealthy professionals and donors, reflected the coalition of voters that Warnock drew on to win the contest.
Walker's campaign was plagued by repeated gaffes and claims by former girlfriends that he paid for their abortions, even though he has campaigned for the procedure to be outlawed. He has denied the accusations.
Warnock highlighted those concerns in campaign appearances and a barrage of television ads that made the race the most expensive of the 2022 midterm season, with more than $400 million spent.
The contest went to a runoff after neither candidate secured 50% of the vote on Nov. 8.
Warnock's victory was powered by a strong showing in urban and suburban counties, including Atlanta's Fulton County, where the incumbent Democrat was winning 79% of the vote -- a higher share than he won in November.
Democrats now are on track for a 51-seat majority in the 100-seat Senate, which will make it slightly easier to advance Biden's nominees for judicial and administrative posts. Most legislation will still require Republican support.
Warnock, who like Walker is Black, is pastor of the historic Atlanta church where assassinated civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. preached. It is the second runoff victory in two years for Warnock, who first won his seat in January 2021.
Republicans won a narrow majority in the US House of Representatives in the Nov. 8 election, but fell short of the "red wave" that some in the party had forecast.