Georgia voters are being asked to choose between two nationally prominent Black men with deep ties to the state when they vote in a U.S. Senate race that could determine the balance of power in Washington.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker are both deeply Christian and both well known nationwide as well as in Georgia.
Warnock holds the pulpit at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the former church of Martin Luther King Jr. He shot to national prominence when he won Georgia’s Senate seat in a run-off early last year, tipping the balance of power on Capitol Hill to the Democrats.
Walker is one of the most-storied University of Georgia football players of all time. After leaving UGA, he went on to play professional football for several teams, including a United States Football League team owned by Donald Trump. The former president endorsed Walker’s run for Georgia’s Senate seat.
Both candidates frequently rely on quotes from the Bible and Christian theology during their speeches to Georgia voters but differ widely on policy issues including abortion, gun control, health care, and the economy.
Warnock is a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to choose.
“A patient’s room is too narrow and small and cramped a space for a woman, her doctor and the United States government as we are witnessing right now,” Warnock has said repeatedly at campaign events this fall. “I trust women more than I trust politicians.”
In contrast, Walker is an opponent of abortion. In the past, Walker has indicated he opposes all abortions, with no exceptions for the life of the mother or in the case of rape or incest.
However, during a recent debate, Walker said he supports Georgia’s “heartbeat law,” which bans most abortions after about six weeks but includes exceptions for rape and incest.
Walker has denied recent media reports that he paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion and encouraged her to have a second abortion.
“That was a lie, and I’m not backing down,” Walker said during the recent debate.
“I’m a Christian. I believe in life. … I’ll be a senator that protects life,” he added.
Walker has sought to tie Warnock to President Joe Biden and blame current inflation on the Democratic duo.
“You have to blame this administration and Senator Warren because within two years, this inflation has gotten worse,” Walker said. “They cut our energy independence. They also raised taxes. And at the same time, they [are] reckless[ly] spending all our money.”
Walker said he would address inflation by increasing American energy independence.
“We got to become energy independent again,” Walker said. “We’re going to our enemies to ask for gas and oil. That puts us not just in an inflation problem, but it puts us in a national security problem.”
And Walker said he would not cut military spending because the U.S. needs to maintain its military readiness.
Warnock, in contrast, blamed inflation on corporate greed.
“A lot of our corporate actors are seeing record profits in the oil and gas industry and the pharmaceutical industry,” Warnock said. “People deserve to participate in the prosperity that they’re creating for others. They deserve a livable wage, and they deserve benefits.”
Warnock successfully lobbied to get a $35 monthly cap on insulin for Medicare beneficiaries into the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. He also supported a cap on prescription drug costs for Americans on Medicare.
Warnock is a strong proponent of Medicaid expansion in Georgia. He wrote legislation to provide a federal workaround to allow Georgia and other non-Medicaid-expansion states to provide health coverage to uninsured people. The workaround failed to gain traction in Congress amid Republican opposition.
Walker recently said he agrees with Warnock that insulin prices should be capped but that the country must also address the larger problem of inflation.
“I believe in reducing insulin, but at the same time you got to eat right,” Walker said. “So you have to get food prices down and get gas down.”
Warnock has been a proponent of college student loan debt relief. He has called on Biden to take action to forgive some student loan debt, which Biden did earlier this fall.
Warnock frequently tells audiences that federal programs such as Head Start and student loans allowed him to get a good education despite being one of 12 children in a family where money was tight. He says still more loan relief is needed.
Walker, on the other hand, has criticized the loan-relief measure.
“I talked to people, some people that wanted to go to college but they couldn’t,” he said. “This is not right. It’s unfair.”
Walker suggested stopping federal funding to colleges that raise their costs.
Warnock supported a gun-control bill passed by Congress in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, shootings. The new law imposes tougher background checks for people under age 21 who want to buy guns.
Walker opposes most gun control measures as unconstitutional.
“Any law or bill passed that affects anyone’s Second Amendment, I’m not going to stand for,” Walker said.
Walker also blamed Warnock for a rise in crime and the flooding of fentanyl into American streets, saying the country should ensure the southern border is tightly controlled.
Walker also has said he is a law enforcement officer. During a recent debate, he doubled down on those claims, pulling out a badge to show the audience and saying, “I work with many police officers.”
Both candidates face liabilities with voters due to unsavory aspects of their past personal lives.
One attack ad shows Walker’s ex-wife describing how Walker held a gun to her head.
Walker has said the altercations with his ex-wife occurred while he was in the throes of mental illness. He has recently told Georgia voters he is in good health and ready to represent them in the Senate.
“I continue to get help if I need help, but I don’t need any help [now]. I’m doing well,” Walker said.
Another attack ad features the words of Walker’s son, Christian, a Republican activist who lashed out at his father following a media report alleging Walker paid for a former girlfriend’s abortion.
Walker has denied the abortion allegations.
An ad targeting Warnock shows recently uncovered bodycam footage of Warnock’s ex-wife during a domestic violence altercation in March 2020. She is shown in tears accusing Warnock of running over her foot with his car.
Warnock did not directly address the allegations during a recent debate but emphasized he is an involved and supportive father to his two children.
Both races have attracted national attention and dollars. Recent polls have the candidates in a dead heat.
This story comes to Reporter Newspapers + Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with Capitol Beat, a nonprofit news organization covering the state of Georgia.