Prominent Baptist pastor jumps into Georgia Senate race

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images
Rev. Raphael Warnock and Amnesty International CAmpaign Director Laura Moye (left) speak at a press conference in support of death row inmate Troy Davis at Ebenezer Baptist Church September 20, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, the prominent pastor of the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, announced his Senate campaign to challenge newly-appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler (Ga.). 

Warnock’s announcement brings a high-profile Democratic name into a Senate race that has thus far been characterized by GOP infighting ahead of a primary battle. Warnock launched his Senate bid Thursday in a video set in the subsidized Savannah housing project where he was raised.

“Some might ask why a pastor thinks he should serve in the Senate. Well, I committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential,” he says in the video. “I’ve always thought that my impact doesn’t stop at the church door, that’s actually where it starts. And I love this country, and I believe what makes America so great is that we always have a path to make it greater.”

Besides Loeffler, Warnock will also face off in Georgia’s jungle primary against Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Democrats Ed Tarver, a former federal prosecutor, and Matt Lieberman, the son of former senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. The victor will finish the term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), who resigned in December due to poor health. 

Democrats are keen to put up a strong showing in at least one of Georgia’s two Senate races after former state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) nearly won the state’s gubernatorial race in 2018. Party leaders lobbied Abrams to enter one of the two races herself, but she ultimately declined.

Warnock hinted at a progressive campaign in his video launch, saying he would fight to lower medical costs and raise salaries for workers.

“I think Georgia is ready. Ready to stand up for the family who’s tried to do everything right, but when they receive one bad medical diagnosis, they realize that the cost of being sick is too much,” he said. “Ready to fight for the dignity of workers who are paid too little and pushed aside as the government works for Wall Street corporations.”

Warnock, the son of two pastors, has led ministries in Birmingham, Ala., New York City and Baltimore before pastoring in Georgia. He mulled a Senate run against Isakson in 2015 but ultimately decided against it.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) expressed confidence that Warnock would not be able to put up a substantial challenge to Loeffler and indicated that his run would tie him to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

“As the Democratic Party continues to embrace a socialist agenda, Raphael Warnock will be unable to distance himself from the radicals running for president,” said NRSC spokesperson Nathan Brand. “Warnock’s far-left positions are out of touch with Georgia voters and stand in sharp contrast with Kelly Loeffler’s conservative values.”

Republicans are currently in the midst of a fissure in Georgia, with establishment groups like the NRSC backing Loeffler while allies of President Trump have come out in force to support Collins, who raised his profile with fierce defenses of the president from his perch as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment inquiry. 

To combat the challenge, Loeffler has already set up a $2.6 million ad buy introducing herself to voters in Georgia and vowed to spend up to $20 million of her own money to buoy her campaign. However, fears remain that Loeffler and Collins could split the Republican vote in November and provide a path for a Democrat to flip the seat.

Nevertheless, Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, rates the race as “likely” Republican.

Tags Donald Trump Doug Collins Georgia politics Georgia Republican Party Joe Lieberman Johnny Isakson Johnny Isakson Kelly Loeffler Kelly Loeffler Raphael Warnock Raphael Warnock

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