Warnock clearly deserves reelection, but in Georgia Senate debate, he gave Walker too much ground

OPINION: Republican challenger Herschel Walker, who set low expectations before Friday's debate, attacked Sen. Raphael Warnock aggressively, while the Democratic incumbent was too restrained in not going after Walker’s many vulnerabilities.

Raphael Warnock Herschel Walker
Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock debates Republican challenger Herschel Walker. (Photo: Fox 5 Atlanta/YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

This past week, I watched college football and several political debates across the country. My alma mater, Louisiana State University (LSU), defeated the Florida Gators and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Tennessee Volunteers defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide. But before I could settle in to watch more football, I tuned into a few political debates featuring Black candidates, including Maryland’s gubernatorial debate featuring Democratic nominee Wes Moore. As a first-time candidate, Moore was outstanding.

Next up, was the Georgia senatorial debate which was the political highlight of the week. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., clearly deserves reelection over his monumentally unqualified Republican opponent, former college and professional football player Herschel Walker. But in their only debate Friday night, Warnock gave up too much ground by trying to distance himself from President Joe Biden and Walker exceeded expectations by just showing up.

The Georgia U.S. Senate race is a rarity, pitting two Black candidates against each other. While there have been nearly 2,000 senators in all of American history, only 11 Black people (including Warnock) have ever served in the Senate.

Walker set low expectations for his debate performance, saying beforehand: “I’m a country boy. I’m not that smart. He’s a preacher.” All true statements. Walker lacks even an elementary knowledge of how government works and the issues he would face as a senator. But by setting the bar so low for the debate, Walker only had to avoid a major mistake to look good. He managed to do that.

Walker was clearly well-rehearsed, repeatedly criticizing Warnock for voting in nearly all cases in support of President Biden’s proposed legislation and saying that “he [Warnock] and Joe Biden, they’re the same.” 

Warnock kept Biden (who remains unpopular in some circles) at arm’s length, making a strategic error. When asked if he would support Biden for reelection in 2024, Warnock said: “I’ve not spent a minute thinking about what politicians should run for what in 2024,” claiming he had only Georgia and the midterms on his mind.

In this Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 file photo, President-elect Joe Biden, right, campaigns for Senate candidates Raphael Warnock, left, and Jon Ossoff, not pictured, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Warnock and other Democratic candidates around the country would be wiser to talk about how Biden administration achievements have created 10 million jobs and are revitalizing our post-pandemic economy, containing the pandemic with free vaccinations and treatments, canceling some college student debt, improving America’s vital infrastructure, fighting dangerous climate change, and making health care more affordable. 

After all, Biden won the popular vote and the electoral vote nationally in the 2020 presidential election and narrowly carried Georgia. As someone who wants Warnock to be reelected, I was disappointed that he didn’t embrace what Democrats have accomplished during these uncertain times. There’s no question, some of Biden’s proposals are not popular with Republicans, but it’s a huge mistake for Democratic candidates to treat the president as a liability.

In contrast, when asked if he would support defeated and twice-impeached former President Donald Trump if he runs for president in 2024, Walker said that “yes I would. President Trump is my friend.” Trump is a strong supporter of Walker and played a key role in Walker winning the GOP nomination for the Georgia Senate race. 

Walker is clearly appealing to the Trump base to put him in the Senate, casting himself as a Black version of the former president while embracing Trump policies harmful to Black people and other Georgians. 

Surprisingly, Warnock could have also connected better with the audience by adding memorable anecdotes of helping his constituents during the pandemic and more. For the first time in American history, we have a federal hate crimes act. Warnock could have said, “Mr. Walker, you’re acting as if Donald Trump is your quarterback and you’re running up and down the field carrying his ball.”  

Donald Trump and Herschel Walker, theGrio.com
Donald Trump and Herschel Walker (Photo by Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images)

While Walker attacked Warnock aggressively, Warnock was too restrained in not going after Walker’s many vulnerabilities, though in one of the most heated exchanges of the night Warnock said: “My opponent has a problem with the truth. And just because he says something doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Warnock has built an impressive centrist record of accomplishment since joining the Senate in 2021 after winning a special election for an unexpired term. He should have showcased this record more effectively. 

The senator has spent his life and his time in the Senate supporting voting rights, affordable health care, racial equality, improved educational opportunities, and programs to help the disadvantaged climb the ladder of success into the middle class. Along with his colleague Senator Jon Ossoff and the Democrats in the Georgia congressional delegation, Warnock has brought federal resources to Georgia to help repair roads and bridges and bring clean drinking water to every neighborhood. 

Warnock still deserves to win. He deserves a full term to help the people of Georgia and continue the work of our generation to further freedom, justice and equality for all Americans. Therefore, Warnock must not be afraid to tell his story and why he’s prepared to continue to fight to raise the federal minimum wage, defend a woman’s right to the full range of reproductive health services, help bring federal investments into the state of Georgia to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by a global pandemic.

My message to Georgians of every race and every political persuasion is to reelect Sen. Warnock to the Senate because you need a senator who will be an effective, honest and highly competent public servant. If Walker becomes a senator, he will be out of his league, be more loyal to Donald Trump than to Georgians, and become a national embarrassment.

Donna Brazile Headshot thegrio.com

Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile

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