Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock is carrying momentum.
Warnock, who struggled earlier this year to separate himself from other Democrats in a crowded special election for Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat, raised more than $12.8 million over the last three months, according to his campaign. He received endorsements from party leaders as well as former Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter before the “Georgia Voices” statewide tour brought the pastor and politician to Muscogee County Friday.
His scheduled stops here included a meet-and-greet with former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, State Rep. Calvin Smyre and other state representatives and senators from the area in the early afternoon followed by a faith leaders’ roundtable at Greater Beallwood Baptist Church and a meet-and-greet with the Muscogee County Democrats at Overflo Salon and Barber Shop in the evening.
The campaign events come shortly after President Donald Trump announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. Warnock offered his prayers to the president and first lady, saying he would continue to implement public health measures to keep his campaign eventgoers safe
“We are praying much for the President and the first lady, and I hope they will have a full and speedy recovery,” Warnock said Friday in a phone interview. “If the President of the United States can get coronavirus, then anyone can. …When running for office, you certainly want to engage voters. We’ve tried to find ways to do it safely. Our events have been socially distanced. We’ve asked people to wear a mask, and where possible, we’ve hosted our events outside.”
Various polling shows that Warnock is either ahead of or within striking distance of Loeffler. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found Warnock leading the field with 31% of the vote followed by Loeffler at 23%, Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins at 22% and Democrat Matt Lieberman at 9%. A late-September AJC poll had Warnock, Loeffler and Collins close together.
Democrats have called on Lieberman to drop from the race and clear a path for Warnock, citing fears that Lieberman might collect enough votes to prevent a Democratic win or lock Warnock out of a likely January runoff. November’s election features all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, on the same ballot. If no one gets a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters move to a January runoff to determine the winner
In a letter published Friday by the AJC, a coalition of 10 Democratic groups wrote Lieberman pleading with him to drop his campaign.
“Unfortunately, your continued presence in this race poses a very real and potentially disastrous threat to Democrats’ chances of winning Georgia’s special election for the U.S. Senate,” a portion of the letter reads.
When asked if he feels Lieberman should drop from the race, Warnock said he was focused on his own campaign.
“I can’t speak for him and I really am focused on running my own race,” he said. “When the history is written on this moment in Georgia and in our nation (at) a serious inflection point, I need to know that I did my very best. So, that’s what I intend to do — my very best to get my message out.”
Should Warnock be one of the top two candidates, he’d likely face Loeffler or Collins in the January runoff. A Democrat has not been elected to serve in the U.S. Senate for Georgia since 2000 when former governor Zell Miller defeated Republican Mack Mattingly in a special election. Both of Georgia’s Senate seats are up for grabs in 2020 as Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff looks to unseat incumbent Republican David Perdue.
When asked what makes this 2020 Senate election different, Warnock pointed to issues associated with health care and racial inequity highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and protests following the death of George Floyd. Warnock has discussed the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks in statements and social media posts over the past several months.
Brooks was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer in June, and his funeral was held at Warnock’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Warnock delivered the eulogy.
“There’s so much at stake. These are issues I’ve been working on for years. I don’t have to make anything up,” he said. “We witnessed this summer a multi-racial, multi-faith coalition of conscience pouring out onto American streets. Black kids, white kids, young people, old people saying ‘We’re better than this.’”
“I think lying before the American people is a basic idea about who we actually are and what kind of country we want to be,” he added.
Faith, Warnock said, provides his values, informing how he looks at public policy and governing.
“I think it’s as basic as the Gospel mandates — love your neighbor as you love yourself,” he said.