Analysis: The political rise of the preacher who took up a former civil rights activist’s mantle coincided with shifts in the state
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When Raphael Warnock was born, two segregationists – one of them, Herman Talmadge, a Southern Democrat who opposed civil rights legislation in the 1960s – represented the state of Georgia in the Senate. Today, the first African-American Democratic senator from a formerly Confederate state, Warnock, a senior preacher at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, was elected. For a variety of reasons, his victory over hardliner Trump supporter and Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who tried to portray Warnock as a “Marxist radical,” is significant. It marks not only a repudiation of the racial dog-whistle populism of the Trump era, but also a change in the political dynamic in Georgia, where no Democratic presidential candidate had won since Bill Clinton in 1992 before Joe Biden’s victory in November. Raised in a family of 12 children in a Savannah housing development, Warnock preached his first sermon at the age of 11 and attended the same college, Morehouse, where King had studied. Warnock later became the youngest senior preacher in King’s own church as an intern at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, under civil rights activist John Thomas Porter. Warnock’s approach, as religious scholar Jonathan Lee Walton recently wrote in the Washington Post, is driven by a tradition of truth-telling in African-American churches that “places an overwhelming moral emphasis on society’s most vulnerable and oppressed.” talking both from the pulpit and on the campaign trail about social justice and racial inequality-some of it used against him in crude Republican advertising. Like other locations, the home state of former President Jimmy Carter has seen its major cities, not least Atlanta, and suburbs turn more and more to Democrats in recent decades, even as the local party has given up seeking candidates that are palatable to more traditional white rural voters, all of which has helped galvanize younger and black voters in the big-city voting areas. “And as Geoffrey Skelley noted on the website 538, the areas that leaned most heavily towards Trump in the presidential election were also the ones where turnout fell the most: “One lesson from the results of tonight is that the concerns of Republicans about turnout seem to have come to pass. They were worried that because of Trump’s rhetoric, their base voters would not be as inspired to go to the polls.
I sound like a one-trick pony, but we’re back here. In 4 short years, we went from talking about unemployment and the economy to Qanon election conspiracies and they were noticed, as it turns out!-Josh Holmes (@HolmesJosh) January 6, 2021
With his election, Warnock is only the eleventh African-American U.S. senator in the history of the nation and the fourth from the South. Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram Revels, the first two to serve the Republican Party in the Reconstruction era, the latter who formed two African-American regiments during the Civil War, were named to the Senate before the famous voting age.