Final pleas made to voters in tight Senate races fronted by Black candidates ahead of midterm elections

In an interview with theGrio, Georgia pastor Jamal Bryant reacts to his sermon remarks on Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker going viral. He also weighs in on the tight Senate race in Florida.

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President Joe Biden is hitting the campaign trail this week as Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama hit the road campaigning for Democratic candidates this past weekend. With just eight days before Americans cast their ballots on Nov. 8, polls show Republicans have competitive edges in highly-publicized races where the Democratic nominee on the ballot is African American. 

Tara Setmayer, a former Republican strategist and senior advisor for the political action committee, The Lincoln Project, told theGrio, “With so many races tightening, Democrats cannot let their foot off the gas. Every vote counts.”

Former President Barack Obama, center, stands with Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and candidate for U.S. Senate, Sen. Raphael Warnock D-Ga., during a campaign rally Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, in College Park, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Understanding the stakes and consequences of the upcoming elections, Jamal Bryant, pastor of New Birth Cathedral in Georgia, delivered a message to his congregation during a sermon this past Sunday. In his remarks, Bryant forcefully spoke against the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Herschel Walker.

Walker, Bryant said, was handpicked by Georgia Republicans who he argued were not happy with the quick pace of change in the antebellum south where, in 2020, Black and brown voters sent a Black man and a Jewish man to the United States Senate. 

”Georgia, I need you to know the slave negro y’all are used to don’t live here no more,” exclaimed Bryant. “We can think for ourselves, function for ourselves and vote for ourselves. Why? Cause we don’t need a Walker.”

Bryant told theGrio he sees this election cycle as “a maturing moment for our community,” in which Black voters “realize that we have to get beyond symbolic runs and substantive policies.” 

Bryant’s pulpit condemnation of Walker is emblematic of frustration from scores of Black Georgians and across the country, who say they are troubled by the former football star’s political rise – one that is infused with the ideology of former President Donald Trump. 

“I think that the people have to be clear. You have to realize [that], here in Georgia, Herschel Walker is a legend. He’s a Greek god … for Georgians for his exploits on the field, not for what he’s done after the fourth quarter,” said Bryant.

The activist and preacher said, given how close the polls are between Herschel and Democrat incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock, he thought it was important that somebody “pull out a flashlight and underscore why it is that we can’t risk the destiny of people in Georgia with that level of incompetence.”

A New York Times poll of the Senate race in Georgia has Warnock besting Walker by three points, and another poll from the conservative Real Clear Politics has Walker beating Warnock by a little more than one point. Either way, sources close to the matchup in Georgia are anticipating a run-off, as candidates in Georgia must surpass 50% of the vote in order to declare victory.

Former Republican Vice President Mike Pence visited Georgia this past weekend to campaign for Gov. Brian Kemp, who currently leads his Democrat challenger, Stacey Abrams. Pence notably did not stump for Walker’s Senate campaign.

Another closely watched U.S. Senate contest is the Florida matchup between Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Val Demings. Congresswoman Demings vies to make history as the Sunny State’s first Black senator.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden traveled to Florida to participate in campaign events for Demings and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist, who is a former Republican governor of the state.

Demings spoke with theGrio on Saturday while campaigning across Florida. The former Orlando police chief and social worker said she is “excited” about the prospect of going from the U.S. House to the Senate. 

“We’re certainly in a critical time in our state,” said Demings. “And we need serious people with real-life experience to solve some of the challenges that we face.”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., participates in a televised debate with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at Duncan Theater on the campus of Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach County, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post via AP, Pool)

The three-term congresswoman said she understands the number one concern for Black voters is the economy and inflation. “I grew up the daughter of a maid and a janitor. So there’s no one, at least in this Senate race in Florida, who understands more than me what it’s like to stretch a dollar to make ends meet,” Demings shared. 

“I watched my parents sometimes go to work seven days a week to keep a roof over our head and food on the table. I can remember coming home and our lights, our electricity was turned off and that look on my parents’ faces about how they were going to scrape up enough money to get the lights back on.” 

The everyday pocketbook issues are front and center with an expected spike in COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks that could interrupt the supply chain and wreak havoc on the prices, further driving up inflation. 

A theGrio/KFF survey found among 1,000 Black voters, inflation in gas prices, housing and food are major concerns heading into Election Day.

“We can help to lower the costs for everyday Floridians. And we can work to protect constitutional rights for people living in the greatest country in the world,” said Demings, who said Democratic Party “is the only party that has taken major steps to reduce the costs for everyday Americans and everyday Floridians.”

She added, “We are proud that we were able to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which, you know, helps to lower the costs for everyday people.”

Bryant, who thought Demings did an “amazing job” during her recent debate against Rubio, said, “the whole nation is watching to see what Florida is going to do.”

Rep. Val Demings and Sen. Marco Rubio
Rep. Val Demings and Sen. Marco Rubio (Photo: Getty Images)

“I think [Demings], quite frankly, is the vaccine for everything that is indecent in the state,” added Bryant, who has thrown his support toward several Black candidates in his home state of Georgia, including Warnock and Abrams.

In many of this year’s midterm election contests – which includes a record 16 Black candidates running for statewide office – race and subtle and overt racism have become a function of some of the key races. It’s something that has not gone unnoticed by Demings, who told theGrio, “we know that racism has been the ghost in the room across this nation. And it’s so critical that we elect people who want to unite us and not divide us.”

Setmayer of The Lincoln Project said of the Florida Senate race: “Despite the political headwinds for Democrats in Florida, Val Demings is running a highly-competitive and well-funded race against incumbent polling below 50 percent.

“If anyone can break through the GOP talking points on crime and culture war scare tactics, it’s Demings, given her background,” she added.

Bryant, who is witnessing one of his daughters, with reality TV star Gizelle Bryant, vote for the first time in the state of Maryland, believes this is a “coming of age” moment. Many within the Black community, he fears, have been “disillusioned by the [Democratic] party.” He warned that Black voters must recognize what is at stake, adding, “these races will only be lost because of apathy.”

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