Can Raphael Warnock fend off a challenge from scandal-plagued Herschel Walker?

Georgia voters again have a seat at the national table, as their votes determine, perhaps, the political makeup of the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is again in a tight race against a Republican challenger that could maintain the 50-50 split in the chamber or hand the GOP control. When Warnock was first elected in 2021, it was his and the other Georgia U.S. Senate contest that delivered a tie in the Senate to Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. 

Now Warnock is on the ballot again, this time against ex-NFL star Herschel Walker, in a race that has featured dueling accusations of domestic abuse, abortion scandals and a bevy of various scandals.

Walker has been the subject of most of the controversy, most recently with allegations that he paid for an ex-girlfriend to obtain an abortion and  urged her to have another abortion years later. She didn’t and that child is one of three Walker initially did not disclose. A second woman has since come forward, anonymously, saying Walker paid for her to have an abortion, too.

The allegations are a big deal because Walker is vehemently anti-abortion, favoring bans on the procedure without exceptions for rape or incest. 

For weeks, his campaign has been inundated with negative headlines, has been the butt of Saturday Night Live jokes and faced questions about the accusations, which Walker continues to deny despite mounting evidence from the first of the two accusers. 

Walker further faced scrutiny over claims he once held a gun to his ex-wife’s head, that he wrongfully claimed to have worked in law enforcement and exaggerated claims about graduating from the University of Georgia, which he left his junior year to play professional football. 

Yet despite the barrage of scandal, Walker’s campaign seems to be overcoming, even excelling in this year’s race. 

Real Clear Politics’ national average of polls puts Republican Walker 1.4 points ahead of Warnock, an improvement since the two squared off in a debate earlier this month when Warnock had been consistently holding onto a tight lead. That national average shows neither candidate reaching the 50% threshold, with Walker at 47.4% and Warnock at 46%.

If those numbers hold, the two will head to a runoff election later this year. 

The increase in polling performance for Walker comes after an InsiderAdvantage/Fox 5 poll put Walker 3 percentage points ahead of Warnock. 

InsiderAdvantage Chairman Matt Towery told Fox 5 that Walker received 59% support among White voters and nearly 20% support among Black voters in the most recent poll, with a closed gap among women and a surge of 10 points among men.

“It appears the new allegations had no impact on the race and perhaps are having a reverse effect,” Towery told the outlet.

It also may not help Warnock that he, too has faced domestic abuse allegations from his ex-wife, Ouleye Ndoye. She previously accused him of running over her foot during an argument at her apartment. Though no charges were filed and medical professionals who evaluated the woman found no injuries consistent with her allegations. 

But the biggest issue driving the U.S. Senate race this year may in fact have less to do with the individual candidates than the national tone. Voters nationwide, Georgia notwithstanding, are consistently listing the economy and inflation as their top concern this cycle. Those are two issues on which Republicans historically perform better than Democrats and, even more so, when a Democrat occupies the White House.

With gas prices still high, grocery prices soaring and inflation continuing to grow, President Joe Biden is bearing the brunt of the blame, which trickles down to Democrats on the ballot.

Democrats have been hoping that campaigning on abortion access will give them momentum, capitalizing on frustration that bubbled over following the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade. That appeared to be working briefly in late August and into early September, but Republicans have since seen a massive surge in polling nationwide as concern shifts again to kitchen table finances. 

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