By Joshua Heron
Howard University News Service
Georgia voters flocked to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to re-elect Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, the state’s first Black U.S. senator, or replace him with another Black man, Republican Herschel Walker, a former NFL star whose campaign has been dogged by questions about whether he is fit to hold the office.
Just over 2.5 million Georgians voted early, a midterm election record for the state that was just 100,000 short of the 2.6 million people who voted early during the 2020 presidential election. The race was too close to call around midnight with 49.2% for Warnock and 48.7% for Walker, based on 94% of the vote, according to NBC News. With neither candidate winning more than 50 percent of the vote, Warnock and Walker will compete in a Dec. 6 runoff the top two vote-getters.
Polls heading into Tuesday’s election have the two candidates in a statistical dead heat, with Walker’s 1 percentage-point advantage falling within the margin of error. There was also the possibility that some voters were inclined to split their ballots.
The outcome of this race, alongside those in a handful of other states, could determine control of the U.S. Senate and possibly influence the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda for the next two years. Ironically, Warnock became Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator by defeating Republican Kelly Loeffler in a runoff in January 2021.
Also on the ballot is Libertarian Party candidate Chase Oliver, who has polled a distant third behind Walker and Warnock but is positioned to gain support from voters who are not inclined to back either the Democrat or Republican — a situation that, in a tight contest, potentially could throw the race into a runoff.
Joshua Daniel Grant, 30, a musician and teacher at Davis Academy in Sandy Springs, Georgia, Grant admits to an “intense” atmosphere in Georgia. “They are pushing Black people to get out to the polls and stay outside the polls to encourage one another to vote,” he said.
Abortion rights emerged as a central issue in the midterms nationwide after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The issue took on even more importance when two former girlfriends of Walker’s came forward separately to say he pressed them to get abortions, and paid for the procedures. Walker repeatedly denied the allegations.
Given that disclosure, it is surprising that Georgia’s Senate race is so close, said Keneisha Grant, an associate professor of political science at Howard University who is not related to Joshua Grant.
“If voters are making decisions on the basis of their policy positions, then it should follow that the Republican candidate loses some support based on the revelations of his pro-choice actions,” she said. “However, this has not happened.”
Walker has also been dogged by mental illness struggles in the past and domestic abuse allegations by his ex-wife. However, he questions Warnock’s pro-choice stance as a Christian. In the waning weeks of the race, Warnock’s campaign ran ads criticizing Walker as hypocritical on abortion.
Warnock is pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served as co-pastor alongside his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. He is seeking re-election to a full six-year term.
Hoping to woo those voters, former President Barack Obama campaigned with Warnock late last month, questioning Walker’s political aptness at a Democratic rally in the Atlanta suburb of College Park.
“Herschel Walker was a heck of a football player,” Obama said. “Does that make him equipped to weigh in on the critical decisions about our economy and our foreign policy and our future?”
Walker responded by boasting about his credentials as an entrepreneur.
Michael K. Fauntroy, founding director of the Race, Politics and Policy Center at George Mason University, echoed Obama with a practical analogy when speaking to Howard students a day before the election.
“I will never have anyone who has no experience in surgery pick up a scalpel and do a procedure on me,” he said. Fauntroy calls himself as a “big believer of experience” and believes America is picking politicians like “homecoming king and queen,” disrespecting the process and glorifying popularity.
After attending the funeral of his mentor, the Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, pastor of historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Warnock spent the days leading into Election Day canvassing the state on a bus.
“This man has demonstrated that he cannot tell the truth,” Warnock said at his final campaign stop in Macon, Georgia, on Monday. “Even his own staff thinks that he’s a pathological liar.
Taking the stage in Hiram, Georgia, on Sunday, Walker said that he and Warnock were not reading from the same Bible. The former athlete said he had one thought in mind: faith.
“I’m not that politician,” Walker said of his opponent. “I’m that warrior for God, and I’ve been waiting to go up against this wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Joshua Heron is a reporter for HUNewsService.com.