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Georgia runoff underscores GOP struggles with Black voters

The Georgia Senate runoff election between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and GOP hopeful Herschel Walker is laying bare the challenges Republicans continue to face in courting Black voters. 

Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) felt a candidate like Walker would inspire more Black Americans to vote Republican. Former President Trump called the former football star “a fabulous human being who loves our country.”

But in a recent CNN poll, 96 percent of Black voters said they would cast their ballot for Warnock. Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of Black PAC, which is dedicated to mobilizing Black voters, said many see Walker as a bad attempt by the Republican Party to cater to the community’s needs.

“[Black voters] are offended that the Republican Party is attempting to impose their version of what a Black leader should be on the Black community,” Shropshire told The Hill.

“It insults the intelligence of Black people when you think that you can just throw any old person up and that Black people will just vote for them because they’re Black.”

Shropshire said many voters feel the Republican support of Walker is “performative.”

“When you think about the sort of multiple stereotypes that Herschel Walker represents, that tells you a lot about who Republicans think Black people are and what they think that they will accept in terms of political leadership,” she said. 

The Republican National Committee’s arm dedicated to Black media affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

Shropshire, who has been canvassing around Georgia, including in key areas of Atlanta, Columbus and Savannah, said Black voters are even more motivated to vote in Tuesday’s runoff then they were in November’s general election.

Voter turnout in Georgia’s midterms this year could end up breaking records. More than 1.86 million ballots have already been cast ahead of Tuesday’s election, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Black voters make up almost 32 percent of that turnout. 

Warnock’s 2021 runoff victory over then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) was in part due to an outpouring of support from Black voters. Nodding to this fact, Trump pushed for Walker as the GOP nominee this year despite criticism from fellow Republicans, who pointed to Walker’s struggles with mental health, among other issues.

Still, the GOP — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — eventually jumped on the Walker bandwagon in the hopes of defeating Warnock, who was widely seen as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents heading into Nov. 8.

But Walker hit repeated hurdles on the campaign trail, including gaffes that went viral and mounting allegations that he paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion despite having come out in opposition to the practice.

Meanwhile, he has denied racism is an issue, pushed anti-abortion ideologies and embraced Trump, who remains unpopular with many Black voters. 

According to Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright, Walker has become entrenched in a party that is seen as increasingly more right-wing and extremist. 

“Not only is he associating with [extremists], but he’s campaigning with them and has yet to deny them or some of the things they stand for,” Seawright said. He pointed to Walker’s silence on Trump’s recent dinner with an avowed white supremacist and antisemite as an example.

But Seawright also said that Walker’s challenges are more fundamental.

“I think it’s very hard for Herschel Walker to have credibility on issues that are top-of-mind for Black folks in Georgia because I think we all can make an argument that he has no direct relationship with the state of Georgia apart from playing football,” he said. “But also he has no track record even fighting for issues or saying what he’s going to do for our community.”

Adding to his challenges is the fact that his opponent has considerable clout among Democrats, especially after helping them flip the Senate last year. Over the last four weeks, Senate Majority PAC’s (SMP) affiliated group Georgia Honor has invested $23.5M in TV and digital advertising for the runoff election. Former President Barack Obama spent Thursday in Georgia campaigning for Warnock. And in a new phone campaign, former first lady Michelle Obama urged voters to join her in supporting Warnock.

Republicans, on the other hand, don’t have any comparable figures who could for Walker. Trump, who is expected to hold a virtual rally for the candidate on Monday night, has not held any in-person rallies in the state since Nov. 8.

“We have seen it in knocking on doors, but also in our polling that younger Black voters — and particularly younger Black men — are offended by Herschel Walker,” Shropshire said. “They do not believe that he should be representing them as a Black male role model and their responses in focus groups and in our polling is rejection and repudiation of him.”

Black PAC spent the months leading up to the midterms talking with voters, and many identified the economy and jobs, access to and expansion of health care, and gun violence as top issues. The recent attacks on voting rights and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade were also motivating. 

“If Republicans actually cared about winning the Black vote, they would actually work on issues that Black voters care about,” Shropshire said. “They would not dictate what those issues are, they would simply listen and move policy and move legislation that addresses issues like gun violence, like voting rights.”

Though a record number of Black candidates ran for office on GOP platforms in this year’s midterms, the Republican Party remains predominantly white and male. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) is the only sitting Black Republican senator. 

But Seawright argued it’s not something innate Scott possesses that makes him a better candidate than other Black GOP hopefuls. Instead, Seawright said, Scott simply has a strong support base in South Carolina. This means Scott and the party don’t need to focus so much on their messaging — which he argues consistently turns Black voters away.

“Black voters in Georgia are simply casting a survival vote in this election the same they did in the midterm election,” Seawright said. “They understand that … this Senate race will have a large say in whether communities that look like theirs live or die.” 

Tags Black voters Georgia Senate runoff Herschel Walker Herschel Walker Lindsey Graham Raphael Warnock Raphael Warnock

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