Raphael Warnock delivered a stunning victory for Democrats in Tuesday’s runoff election, defeating Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and giving Georgia Democrats a Senate seat for the first time in more than a decade.
But his victory goes far deeper.
Warnock makes history as the first Black senator to ever represent the state.
He’s just the 11th Black senator in history.
He’s also the first Black Democratic senator from the South since Reconstruction and only the second overall. (South Carolina’s Tim Scott, a Republican, is the other.)
When Warnock was born, in 1969, both of Georgia’s senators were segregationist Democrats.
Warnock acknowledged his unusual path to the Senate in a speech early Wednesday morning, pointing to his roots growing up in the Kayton Homes housing project of Savannah, Georgia, as one of 12 children and then as a graduate of Morehouse College, the historically Black men’s college in Atlanta.
″[T]he other day, because this is America,” he added, acknowledging his mother, “the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator.”
Warnock is now senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
Though there were two Senate runoffs on the ballot Tuesday, Warnock attracted the bulk of the vitriol from the GOP. They labeled him a radical extremist, calling him a “heretic” and accusing him of being involved in “child abuse.”
But the tactics led to a backlash from Black voters, who turned out in strong numbers and fueled the Democratic win.
“The attack ads, the portrayal of Rev. Warnock using historically racist tropes in the ads is insulting,” Gwen Mills, the secretary-treasurer of the labor union Unite Here, which contributed to a major field organizing program in the state, told HuffPost before the election. “But it’s also invigorating in the sense that people aren’t going to stand for this. We’ve heard it a lot.”
Warnock’s win is also likely to add momentum to the push to recruit and support more Black candidates for statewide offices after decades of the party often turning instead to white, moderate and rather milquetoast options.
Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, helped set the template for Black candidates pursuing statewide office and appealing to suburban white voters.
In 2020, Jamie Harrison in South Carolina and Mike Espy in Mississippi both lost, but they outran Biden in their states and raised more money than their GOP opponents.
“Rev. Warnock’s victory represents a historic seismic shift in how we view electoral viability,” said Chris Scott, national political director for the Collective PAC, which supports Black candidates. “With Rev. Warnock set to become only the 11th Black elected senator in U.S. history, his victory proves to Democrats that Black candidates are especially viable and captivating for U.S. Senate seats in nontraditional states, in addition to the South being worthy of greater investment.”