Georgia runoff Senate vote a new test for Biden
Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock © ALEX WONG, Brendan Smialowski /AFP/File

Choosing between a pastor and a former football star, voters in Georgia will decide Tuesday on a seat in the US Senate in an election with high stakes for Joe Biden's presidency.

Democratic senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker, who is backed by former president Donald Trump, will clash in a hotly contested runoff after neither of the African American candidates earned more than 50 percent in the November 8 midterm election.

With Warnock, 53, and Walker, 60, running neck and neck, Biden has urged Georgians to turn out and vote Democrat. "It really is critical," the president has said.

Even though Democrats have already retained control over the Senate in last month's vote, albeit just barely, this election is nonetheless decisive for Biden.

Republicans see the Georgia Senate seat as a chance to boost their ability to block Biden's policies, having won back control of the House of Representatives.

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.

For Democrats, on the other hand, a Warnock victory would help consolidate their paper-thin Senate majority and allow them to wield greater influence in key congressional committees.

It would also significantly curb the power of centrist Democratic senator Joe Manchin, who has already blocked several major Biden initiatives in the first two years of his term.

Top guns to the rescue

Determined to win the race, Democrats have called on their top guns: former president Barack Obama, the most charismatic leader in the Democratic Party, campaigned in Atlanta last week.

And in yet another sign of how high the stakes are, some 400 million dollars have already been spent in this campaign, making the Georgia race the most expensive in all of the midterms.

Some 1.9 million people have already voted early, many of them likely Democratic voters, while Republicans are expected to turn out in force on Tuesday.

With the two candidates running head to head, according to most recent polls, the outcome is hard to predict.

Historically a Republican state, Georgia took America by surprise when voters chose Biden over Trump in the 2020 elections and then sent two Democrats to the Senate two months later in another runoff.

Polar opposites

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, 53, grew up in poverty.

Even after his election, Warnock remained as senior pastor in an Atlanta church where slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr once preached. Warnock 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 holds several records.

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 of two women he had relationships with.

© 2022 AFP