ATLANTA – Georgia state elected its first black US senator: On Tuesday Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) in one of two state polls.
Warnock’s victory puts Democrats one seat to achieve a majority in the US Senate. If Jon Ossoff defeats Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) in the too close second round, the party will effectively control the chamber, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the deciding vote.
Longtime preacher at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the congregation once led by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., Warnock was a familiar figure in Democratic circles in Georgia for years, known for his activism on healthcare, criminal justice and other questions. But he had never run for office before, and the 2020 campaign has become perhaps the most grueling test imaginable for a novice candidate.
Warnock spent most of the 2020 campaign preparing for a face-to-face face-to-face with Loeffler or former Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), as the two Republicans were locked in a bitter fight to ensure a place in the second round in January. As a result, he was not attacked for most of the year – which changed immediately after Loeffler edged Collins in the November 3 election.
Backed by hundreds of millions of dollars, Loeffler and his GOP allies have funded a full blitz of television attack announcements targeting Warnock. They copied footage from his many hours of preaching as a preacher at Ebenezer Baptist Church in an attempt to portray him as a far-left radical who admired Communist dictators and disparaged the military and police. In the heated final leg of the race, they used a March 2020 dispute between Warnock and his ex-wife to claim he was a domestic abuser.
Democrats have denounced many of these ads as part of a racist effort to smear a black candidate. But they also aggressively attacked Loeffler, especially for his financial transactions. In March, The Daily Beast reported that Loeffler unloaded millions of dollars in stock after Senators received a private briefing on the coronavirus outbreak in January. Loeffler claimed she had been exonerated by federal authorities, but Warnock often referred to the stories during the campaign, portraying Loeffler as a self-serving elite in the Trumpian mold.
It was difficult for Loeffler to escape Trump’s shadow during the second campaign round. The president’s constant attacks on Georgia’s electoral system following his November defeat in the state raised fears within the GOP that conservative voters would not come forward to participate in a “rigged” process.
Loeffler, who has worked diligently to ally himself with the president in the eyes of his grassroots, has struggled to validate their angst over the election won by Biden. In media appearances and even on the debate stage with Warnock in December, Loeffler refused to push back Trump’s quest to destroy Kemp – who appointed Loeffler to the Senate – and his open calls for him to be primarized.
At a rally featuring Trump on Monday night, Loeffler used her precious time to tell the crowd and cameras that she would fight to overturn Biden’s legitimate victory by opposing certification of election results by the Electoral College on Wednesday.
Although Warnock passed one grueling test, the next one begins almost immediately. As this was a special election to fill the remainder of the term of former Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Warnock will face voters again in November 2022 for a full six-year term in the chamber.
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