Georgia GOP Senate primary candidate Herschel Walker is the projected winner Tuesday night, setting up a November midterm showdown with Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.
Walker had the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who originally urged him to run for office years ago.
Walker defeated five GOP challengers in his race, clearing the 50% mark needed to avoid a runoff. Warnock easily defeated beauty industry professional Tamara Johnson-Shealey.
The general election matchup between Warnock and Walker marks the first time that two major party candidates for U.S. Senate in Georgia are Black.
The contest is expected to be heated as the GOP tries to take back the seat Warnock won last year, helping Democrats squeak out a congressional majority. Republicans looking to regain control of the Senate have targeted the Georgia race.
Walker is a former college football celebrity with huge name recognition. Warnock is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. He became the first Black senator elected from Georgia when he defeated appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in 2021 weeks after Democrats won the state’s presidential election for the first time since 1992.As a senator, Warnock has derided Republicans’ push for election integrity, calling it “Jim Crow in new clothes.”
Walker — a political newcomer — has nearly unmatched name recognition in Georgia from his days as a college football running back. He led the University of Georgia football team to a national title during the 1980 season and won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. He counts Trump as a close friend.
The Trump endorsement was the chief reason Pam Leonard said she voted for Walker. But the 71-year-old said Tuesday outside of a polling place in Woodstock that she remembers those football days, too.
“I know his story,” Leonard said. “Especially when he was a child, he was bullied and he built himself up by running against trains. That takes a lot of gumption.”
The other GOP primary candidates were: retired brigadier general Jon McColumn; contractor and Air Force veteran Kelvin King and former state Rep. Josh Clark.
Walker, a former star running back at the University of Georgia and in the NFL, has held a comfortable lead in opinion polls and even has led incumbent Sen. Warnock in a hypothetical race in polling.
Forecasters consider the race a tossup after Warnock won in a special election in January 2021. The seat could be key to control of the Senate in the November midterms.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.