Advocates say Warnock vs. Walker battle for Senate in Georgia will determine future of civil rights

"Georgia voters have a clear choice between competent qualified leadership or a placeholder with no proven ability or willingness to work on behalf of all people,” NAACP board of directors chair Leon W. Russell tells theGrio.

Today, Georgia voters will cast their ballots to determine who will claim the state’s U.S. Senate seat for the next six years. Will it be Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock or Republican Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker? 

georgia senate runoff
Georgia senate candidates Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R). (Photo: Getty Images)

“Senator Warnock must be returned to the Senate to complete the work Georgians sent him there to do in 2020,” civil rights attorney Lee Merritt tells theGrio of the state’s first Black U.S. senator in history, who was elected to the seat in a special election in 2021 for a two-year term. The senator and pastor’s victory was largely credited to a high turnout of Black voters. 

Merritt says contrary to the political substance of Sen. Warnock, his opponent, Walker, “represents an embarrassing attempt by Republicans to win over Black males.” He notes that the recruitment and elevation of Walker by Republicans represents a “pattern” by the party in relying on “celebrities like Kanye West to reach Black voters.”

“To me, it portrays an ongoing failure by Republicans to understand Black voters and see the issues that impact Black life in America,” he adds.

Leon W. Russell, chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors, tells theGrio, “Georgia voters have a clear choice between competent qualified leadership,” referring to Warnock, “or a placeholder with no proven ability or willingness to work on behalf of all people,” a reference to Walker.

During the November 2022 midterm elections, neither one of the two candidates reached the 50% threshold needed to claim a victory in the state. According to The Associated Press, Warnock raked in 49.4% of the votes while Walker amassed 48.5%, resulting in Tuesday’s runoff election.

georgia senate
Supporters listen as Georgia Democratic Senate candidate U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) speaks during a pre-canvassing event December 6, 2022 in Norcross, Georgia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Merritt tells theGrio that runoff elections are tied to racist practices and were “designed as a voter suppression method knowing Black voters historically turn out in fewer numbers in protracted campaigns.”

However, he says, “history seems to be reversing as early voting participation numbers are higher than they’ve ever been,” which resulted in Warnock’s Jan. 5, 2021 victory.

Russell says this year’s Senate runoff is “essential [and] will determine if there is a clear path forward for progressive civil rights and social justice legislation for the next two years.”

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson tells theGrio, “it’s critically important to have Rev. Warnock come back to the seat … we believe he’s proven that he is the right leader for Georgia.” 

Tuesday’s race will determine whether Democrats will have a 51-49 Senate majority or maintain its current 50-50 majority.

Johnson says if Democrats have control over the Senate, “It means that we will be able to continue to make progress on protecting access to sexual reproductive health care and freedom.”

More importantly, she says, “it means that we will also be able to see critical appointments of judges to federal courts who are playing obviously an enormous role on issues of abortion bans, reproductive freedom and democracy.”

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