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    Home / College Guide / Warnock, Walker: Starkly different choices for Black voters
     Posted on Monday, December 05 @ 00:00:06 PST

    ATLANTA (AP) u2014 Raphael Warnock is the first Black U.S. senator from Georgia, having broken the color barrier for one of the original 13 states with a special election victory in January 2021, almost 245 years after the nationu2019s founding. Now he hopes to add another distinction by winning a full six-year term in a Tuesday runoff. Standing in the way is another Black man, Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Both men have common upbringings in the Deep South in the wake of the civil rights movement and would make history as the first Black person elected from Georgia to a full Senate term. Yet Warnock and Walker have cut different paths and offer clearly opposing visions for the country, including on race and racism. Black voters say the choice is stark: Warnock, the senior minister of Martin Luther Kingu2019s Atlanta church, echoes traditional liberal notions of the Black experience; and Walker, a University of Georgia football icon, speaks the language of white cultural conservatism and mocks Warnocku2019s interpretations of King, among other matters. u201cRepublicans seem to have thought they could put up Herschel Walker and confuse Black folks,u201d said Bryce Berry, president of Georgiau2019s Young Democrats chapter and a senior at Morehouse College, a historically Black campus where both King and Warnock graduated.

    Standing beneath a campus statue of King, Berry continued: u201cWe are not confused.u201d Other Black voters raised questions about Walkeru2019s past u2014 his false claims about his business and professional accomplishments, instances of violence against his ex-wife u2014 and the way he stumbles over some public policy discussions as a candidate. Some said they believe GOP leaders are taking advantage of Walkeru2019s fame as a beloved Heisman Trophy winner and national champion running back for the Georgia Bulldogs. u201cHow can you let yourself be used that way as a Black person?u201d asked Angela Heard, a state employee from Jonesboro. u201cI think you should be better in touch with your people instead of being a crony for someone.u201d Even some Black conservatives who back Walker lament his candidacy as a missed opportunity to expand Republicansu2019 reach to a key part of the electorate that remains overwhelmingly Democratic. u201cI donu2019t think Herschel Walker has enough relatable life experience to the average Black American for them to identify with him,u201d said Avion Abreu, a 34-year-old realtor who lives in Marietta and has supported Walker since the GOP primary campaign.

    Warnock led Walker by about 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast in the November general election. AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,200 voters in the state, showed that Warnock won 90% of Black voters. Walker, meanwhile, won 68% of white voters. VoteCast data in the 2021 runoff suggested that Black voters helped fuel Warnocku2019s victory over then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler, comprising almost a third of that electorate, slightly more than the Black share of the 2020 general electorate. The senatoru2019s campaign has said since then that heu2019d have to assemble a multiracial coalition, including many moderate white voters, to win reelection in a midterm election year. But theyu2019ve not disputed that a strong Black turnout would be necessary regardless. The Republican National Committee has answered with its own uptick in Black voter outreach, opening community centers in several heavily Black areas of the state. But the general election results raise questions about the effectiveness, at least for Walker. Abreu said she believes Walker still can win the runoff but has to do it with the usual, overwhelmingly white GOP coalition moved by party loyalty and the 60-year-old candidateu2019s emphasis on cultural issues.

    His campaign, she said, u201chasnu2019t told the full story of Herschelu2019s life and related that to people, with an explanation of how he is going to help them.u201d Indeed, Walker and Warnock share their stories as Black men quite differently. Warnock doesnu2019t often use phrases like u201cthe Black churchu201d or u201cthe Black experience,u201d but infuses those institutions and ideas into his arguments. The senator sometimes notes that others u201clike to introduce me and say Iu2019m the first Black senator from Georgia.u201d He says Georgia voters u201cdid an amazing thingu201d in 2021 but adds that itu2019s more about the policy results from a Democratic Senate. Born in 1969, he calls himself a u201cson of the civil rights movement.u201d He talks of Kingu2019s desire for u201ca beloved community,u201d an inclusive society Warnock says is anchored in the belief that u201cwe all carry a spark of the divine.u201d He touts his Senate work to combat maternal mortality, noting the issue is acute among Black women. He campaigns with Black fraternity and sorority alumni. And he tells of his octogenarian mother using her u201chands that once picked somebody elseu2019s cottonu201d to u201ccast a ballot for her youngest son to be a United States senator.

    u201d u201cOnly in America is my story possible,u201d he concludes. Walker, alternately, is often more direct in identifying himself by race, usually with humor. u201cYou may have noticed Iu2019m Black,u201d he tells audiences that are often nearly all-white. But that jovial aside is the precursor to his indictment of a society u2014 and a political rival u2014 he says are consumed by discussions of race and racism. u201cMy opponent say America ought to apologize for its whiteness,u201d Walker says in most campaign speeches, a claim based on some of Warnocku2019s sermons referencing institutional racism. Walker invokes King u2014 u201ca great manu201d u2014 with a line from his 1963 u201cI Have a Dream Speechu201d and accuses Warnock and u201ctrying to divide usu201d by race. u201cHeu2019s in a church where a man talked about the content of your character, not the color of your skin,u201d Walker told supporters in Canton on Nov. 10, his first rally of the runoff campaign. In Forsyth County last week, he blasted schools he insisted teach u201cCritical Race Theory.u201d u201cDonu2019t let anyone tell you youu2019re racist,u201d he said in August at a u201cWomen for Herschelu201d event, which included Alveda King, the conservative evangelical niece of the slain civil rights leader.

    He blasts Warnock as anti-law enforcement but without any context about police killings of Black citizens. u201cWhat I want to do is get behind our men and women in blue,u201d Walker said in Forsyth. Walker touts his u201cminority-owned food services company.u201d Talking to reporters at one fall campaign stop, he recalled being a freshman at the University of Georgia just a decade after the football program integrated with its first Black scholarship players. But when telling voters of his athletics and professional successes, he doesnu2019t allude to race, instead talking in terms of faith. u201cThe Lord blessed me,u201d he says of each milestone. Itu2019s a contrast to Warnocks framing of growing up in public housing in Savannah, choosing Morehouse because of King, and receiving a Pell Grant for tuition assistance. u201cIu2019m talking about good public policy,u201d the senator says. Doyal Siddell, a 66-year-old Black retiree from Douglasville, said Walkeru2019s pitch is disconnected from many Black voters. u201cJust because youu2019re from the community doesnu2019t mean you understand the community,u201d he said. Itu2019s a contrast not entirely explained by partisan identity of philosophy.

    Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senates lone Black Republican, talks openly of his his familyu2019s struggles through Jim Crow segregation, including his grandfather, who never learned to read or write, and he highlights his status as the only Black American in history elected to both the House and Senate. u201cOur family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,u201d Scott said as a featured speaker of the 2020 Republican National Convention. At Morehouse, Berry said Walker could find some Black conservatives and nonpartisans. But heu2019d have to show up and acknowledge his surroundings. u201cYou see the senator in the suburbs, in Republican areas,u201d Berry said. u201cHerschel Walker has not even been to our campus. Hes not running a campaign that suggests he wants to represent all Georgians.u201d ___ Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report. ___ Follow the APu2019s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.

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