By Cam Lippincott
Graphic By Zeyada N
On January 5, 2021, Raphael Warnock made history by being elected Georgia’s first Black senator. Warnock was elected alongside Democrat Jon Ossoff. Warnock and Ossoff’s victories were what gave the Democrats a majority in the senate; there will be 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans and Vice President Kamala Harris will act as the tie-breaker.
Warnock was not in the national spotlight until August. He remained relatively unknown until his opponent former Senator Kelly Loeffler, a far-right billionaire who illegally sold millions of dollars worth of stock after receiving briefings about the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020 and called Black Lives Matter a Marxist organization that wants to “destroy the nuclear family.” Loffler is a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, a WNBA team. The athletes of the Atlanta Dream responded to Loeffler’s racist comments by wearing t-shirts that simply stated “Vote Warnock.” Before this Warnock was polling 3rd in the runoff election of 20 candidates. He then surged to first in a matter of weeks.
Before November it seemed impossible that any Democrats could win the state. The state hasn’t gone to a Democrat in a presidential election since 1992. However, President Biden and Senators Warnock and Ossoff were all able to win. These unexpected results were largely credited to former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. In 2018 Abrams was the first Black Woman to become the nominee for a major party in a governor race in the United States. Abrams came just 50,000 votes short of a victory in the 2018 Georgia governor election, where current governor Brian Kemp clearly engaged in voter suppression targeted towards Black voters. After her election, Abrams launched the Fair Fight organization, which advocated for easier voter registration and increased voter turnout. Abrams is credited for helping register 800,000 new voters in the state of Georgia.
Warnock has never held political office before. He has been a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor, for 16 years. It also served as the location for the funerals of Dr. King and Congressman John Lewis.
Warnock’s victory makes him the second Black senator from the former Confederacy since the Reconstruction. He is also the first Black Democrat to win a senate seat in the South ever. His win has sent a tremendous message to African Americans in the South who have faced voter suppression and systemic racism for decades. Warnock was smeared as “radical” by his opponents and had attack ads aired against him that darkened his skin. Despite all of this he was still able to win in a state with a flag based on the first flag of the Confederacy. Warnock’s win serves as a signal to Democrats that they shouldn’t think of the South as super conservative states, but rather as ones where voter suppression is rampant. If they put the time and effort into these states, they can win.
Warnock also owes his victory to the fact he did not let his opponents define him. Too many Senate candidates spent all their time simply stating that they were not Republicans and somehow expected swing voters to choose them. During the end of his campaign, Warnock focused on COVID-19 relief, promising to vote for $2000 stimulus checks. By doing so he was able to give reason for people to vote for him rather than just pointing out the flaws in his opponents, a problem many Democratic candidates face.
Since Warnock’s election was a special election, he will have to run again in 2022. As of today, it seems he will be favored to win in the state that’s becoming more and more blue. I hope the Democratic Party looks to Warnock’s campaign as an influence for swing state campaigns. Democrats should run campaigns focused on the issues and not entirely focused on their opponents. The party needs to do everything in their power to end voter suppression in these Southern states, which is not just good politics, it’s the morally responsible thing to do.