WASHINGTON: Joe Biden’s party won a new US Senate seat on Tuesday with Democrat Raphael Warnock’s victory in Georgia, according to television networks.
The incumbent senator defeated Republican Herschel Walker, a former football star and protege of former president Donald Trump.
The victory confirms the very slim Democratic majority — 51 to 49 — in the upper house of Congress.
Even before CNN and NBC called the race for Warnock, Biden appeared confident, shouting at a distance to pool reporters as he arrived in Washington: “We’re going to win. We’re going to win Georgia.”
Warnock’s victory does not change the balance of power in the Senate, which Democrats had already secured control of on November 8.
But the victory allows Democrats to wield greater control in committees and curbs the power of any individual Democratic senator to sink Biden initiatives.
The Republicans took back the House, but with a much smaller majority than expected.
Warnock, pastor at the Atlanta church where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr once preached, and Walker, who are both African American, faced voters after neither earned more than 50 per cent in the November 8 midterm vote.
With Warnock, 53, and Walker, 60, running neck and neck, Biden urged Georgians on Tuesday to turn out and vote.
“Georgia, today is Election Day — and the eyes of the nation are on you. Head to the polls and help send @ReverendWarnock back to the US Senate,” the president tweeted.
Democrats retained control of the Senate in last month’s vote — but just barely, winning 50 seats.
Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote gives Democrats the edge in the 100-seat chamber.
A Warnock win gives Democrats 51 seats and significantly curbs the power of centrist Democratic senator Joe Manchin, who has already blocked several major Biden initiatives in the first two years of his term.
With 700 days to go before the 2024 presidential election, Republicans hope to stymie Biden’s momentum, after his party performed much better than expected in November.
Obama to the rescue
Determined to win the race, Democrats called on their top gun: Charismatic former president Barack Obama, who campaigned alongside Warnock in Atlanta last week.
And in yet another sign of how high the stakes are, US$400 million (RM1.76 billion) has been spent in the campaign, making the Georgia race the most expensive in all of the midterms.
Some 1.9 million people voted early, many of them likely Democratic voters, while Republicans were expected to turn out in force on Tuesday.
Polls had the race too close to call.
Historically a Republican state, Georgia took America by surprise when voters chose Biden over Trump in the 2020 presidential election and then sent two Democrats to the Senate two months later in another runoff.
This time, while both of the candidates are natives of Georgia, the men are polar opposites.
Born the eleventh of 12 children to a former soldier and preacher father and a mother who worked in the cotton fields, Warnock grew up in poverty.
Even after his election, Warnock remained as a senior pastor at Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. He holds a doctorate in theology.
Walker is a latecomer to politics with his 2022 Senate run.
The 60-year-old conservative is considered one of the best players in the history of American college football — a near-religious institution in the South — and went on to have a stellar career in the National Football League.
Walker, who is staunchly anti-abortion, even in cases of rape, has been the subject of several recent scandals, having been accused of paying for abortions for two women he had relationships with. — AFP