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Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker are headed to a December runoff in the Georgia Senate race

The contest pitted Warnock, who was elected in a 2020 special election, against Walker, a former football star who was encouraged by former President Donald Trump to run.

ATLANTA — The Georgia Senate race is headed to a runoff, NBC News projected Wednesday, with neither Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock nor Republican challenger Herschel Walker topping the necessary 50% required under state law to win on the first ballot.

The runoff will be Dec. 6, the Georgia secretary of state’s office said. Both campaigns were bracing for a runoff Tuesday night as results showed a close contest.

The contest pitted Warnock, who was elected in a 2020 special election, against Walker, a former football star who was encouraged by former President Donald Trump to run. Walker, a first-time political candidate, drew an early endorsement from Trump and all but cleared the Republican primary field.

Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and Sen. Raphael Warnock.Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images ; Megan Varner/Getty Images

Walker trailed in the polls for months, dogged by revelations about his turbulent past. In the final month, he faced allegations from two women who claimed he had pressured them to have abortions years ago. He denied the accusations and accused the women of lying. But he gained ground in the run-up to Election Day as he sought to rally the GOP base on cultural issues and tie Warnock to President Joe Biden, blaming the two Democrats for rising inflation and crime.

Warnock largely tacked to the center, highlighting his work on lowering prescription drug and insulin prices and partnerships with Republican senators to build highways in the South and help peanut farmers. He searched for ticket-splitting voters but sharpened his tone in the closing stretch by knocking Walker as scandal-plagued, dishonest and unfit to be a U.S. senator.

If Democrats finish with 49 Senate seats before the runoff, it will decide which party controls the chamber.

In 2020, Georgia held two Senate contests that went to runoffs. Both GOP incumbents were defeated by Democrats, including Warnock, giving the party just enough votes to capture the Senate.