In Georgia, two black candidates vie for Senate seat

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Wayne Black was one of the few African-Americans in the crowd, and about 100 people gathered recently at the Republican headquarters near Columbus, Ga., to hear candidates for the U.S. Senate A speech with football legend Herschel Walker.

As a member of the Muskogee County Republican Executive Committee, Black said he found some hope in Walker’s candidacy, a Republican voice that could appeal to African-Americans and others in Georgia who have traditionally voted Democrats .

“They identified with him from the perspective of the American Dream,” Black said. “You can start from scratch, and as long as you work hard, you can achieve the American dream.”

But that optimism met resistance about 100 miles north. As she left a polling place in Atlanta, Wivonia Carter said her choices in what could be the most competitive Senate race this year aren’t particularly complicated.

“You know I’m black, right?” said the 84-year-old. “I’m a Democrat. That’s all.”

In a Deep South state with a bitter history of slavery, segregation and racial injustice, voters chose for the first time two black candidates to represent major parties in Senate races.after win their respective primaries On Tuesday, Walker faces Democratic Senator Rafael Warnock in the general election, which could help decide control of the Senate.

The race will test whether a Democratic victory in 2020 is a flash in the pan or the beginning of a rapidly changing state political restructuring. November 2020, Joe Biden The first Democratic presidential candidate to ship the state after 28 years, just two months after Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff took two longtime Republican Senate seats Flip it over and put their party in a majority in the Senate.

Black voters have played a vital role in helping Democrats achieve these victories, and will likely play a decisive role again this year.

The question is not whether Walker will break the bond between black voters and Democratic candidates. It’s more about whether black voters, frustrated by Washington’s lack of progress on issues ranging from policing reform to voting rights, will go straight to this election. In a close election, even small changes in voting patterns can be decisive.

Republicans hope Walker’s candidacy will at least neutralize race issues in the race.

“In this race, black Georgians will not have to deal with race,” said Camilla Moore, chair of the Georgia Black Republican Committee. “And I really believe in culture, we’re socially conservative. I think Hershey All you have to do is be Herschel and speak his conservative message.”

But in interviews in recent weeks, many black voters said they would no longer watch Walker because of his race. They say they are motivated by policy considerations and that Walker, who is backed by former President Donald Trump and generally fits in with Republican orthodoxy, is not addressing their needs.

Lewis Harden, a 58-year-old black voter in Atlanta, said he supports Warnock because the senator supports expanding Medicaid.

“The color doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s just a question of who gets the job done.”

There are only a few modern instances where two black men have been nominated for Senate races.

Democrat Barack Obama faces Republican radio host and former diplomat Alan Keyes during his 2004 Senate campaign in Illinois. More recently, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, was unsuccessfully challenged in 2016 by North Charleston pastor Thomas Dixon.

But the Warnock-Walker matchup is unique in that it is more competitive than Democratic-backed Illinois or Republican-dominated South Carolina. In addition, the Georgia candidate is already well-known, representing two institutions respected in the South: the church and football.

Walker is one of Georgia’s most famous sports figures, winning championships and the Heisman Trophy while at the University of Georgia in the 1980s. Warnock is the senior pastor of the Atlanta Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached.

“It’s going to be a historic showdown,” said Standiton, a scholar at the Georgia Historical Society.

But Leah Wright Rigueur, a political historian at Johns Hopkins University, has written that efforts by black Republicans to expand the party have largely expanded the party’s white base.

Republican candidates who do well among African-American voters have the ability to forge a partisan political identity, which she said Walker has so far failed to achieve. Black voters also consider how a candidate treats his or her community, Wright Rigueur said, and may view African-American candidates who stick to Republican talking points more harshly than white candidates.

“The reason is because it’s seen as a betrayal,” she said, “and it’s seen as a community betrayal.”

Walker has largely complied with the Republican message on race. He defended Trump against criticism that Trump was racist, he accused Black Lives Matter of wanting to destroy the country, and he said “black-on-black crime” was worse than police violence.Walker has been reviewed accused him of threatening his ex-wife’s life And dramatically exaggerates his record as a businessman.

Ebenezer Baptist Pastor Warnock embraces King’s legacy of racial justice and equal rights. Following the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd, Warnock laid out the country’s struggle against the “virus” he called “COVID-1619” when some of the first slaves arrived America now. On Capitol Hill, he slammed Republicans for pushing for stricter voting rules, calling them “Jim Crow in new clothes.”

Warnock “has a track record of fighting to improve the lives of all Georgians,” Warnock campaign manager Quentin Folks said in a statement, citing Warnock’s efforts to forgive student loan debt and resolve high Examples of maternal mortality efforts.

“The Georgian people, regardless of their ethnicity, will determine who is qualified for the job and best represents the Georgian people,” he said.

Mallory Blount, a spokeswoman for Walker’s campaign, said all Georgians, regardless of race, face problems created by Democrats, and Walker is “tired of politicians constantly separating people based on skin color.”

Walker told a House subcommittee last year in testimony against reparations for slavery that “Black Power” was being used to “create white guilt.”

In his memoir, “Freedom,” Walker says his mother taught him that “color is invisible” and that doing right or wrong is what matters.

“I never really liked the idea of ​​me representing my people,” he wrote. “My parents made me believe that I represented human beings — people — not black, white, yellow, or any other color or type of person.”

Still, black Republicans in Georgia want Walker to work hard to reach out to the African-American community during the general election. They also believed his personal story of overcoming obstacles to reach the top ranks of college football, and then the NFL would find an audience among black voters.

“Self-determination has been a big thing in the black community since we got out of slavery,” said Leonard Massey, who is black and chairman of the Republican Party in eastern Georgia’s Chatham County. “He actually showed how to get to the next level.”

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Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report.

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