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Sen. Raphael Warnock Stops in Athens to Turn Out Students and Black Voters

Supporters greet Sen. Raphael Warnock at a rally in East Athens. Credit: Blake Aued

Sen. Raphael Warnock, locked in a tight re-election race with Republican Herschel Walker that could once again determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, spent a day in Athens last week rallying two key Democratic constituents: Black voters and young voters.

Warnock started his day Oct. 20 with a speech in front of about 250 people at the UGA Chapel, on the campus where Walker won a Heisman trophy and a national championship 40 years ago. But Dawgs for Warnock president Austin Myhre declared UGA to be Warnock country. And Athens—a city that’s 70% Democratic but where voter turnout is often relatively low—will be critical for Warnock’s re-election chances.

“We need your energy,” Warnock told students in the crowd. “We need your idealism. We need your impatience.”

Drawn by a fascination with Martin Luther King Jr., the Savannah native was the first in his family to attend college, enrolling at King’s alma mater, Morehouse, without knowing how his family would pay for it, Warnock said. “Somebody gave me some Pell Grants and low-interest student loans,” he said, explaining why he pushed President Joe Biden to forgive up to $10,000 in student debt and $20,000 for low-income Pell recipients. “I was willing to climb, but I’m glad somebody lowered a ladder so I could pull myself up.”

Later, Warnock held a rally at Triangle Plaza in East Athens’ Nellie B neighborhood. It’s an often neglected place not many big-name politicians visit, and Warnock received a warm welcome from several hundred mostly Black attendees who gathered around his campaign bus and waited in line for selfies afterward.

“Your presence here gives us hope,” ACC Commissioner-elect Tiffany Taylor said. “When you’re re-elected, we expect to see you again.”

In Nellie B, Warnock modified his stump speech to play up his background as a preacher at MLK’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, citing Bible verses and reminding the audience of those who fought and died for the right to vote during the civil rights movement.

Among the legislative accomplishments Warnock ticked off were $2.5 million in federal funding for affordable housing in Athens, as well as $25 million for traffic safety on North Avenue and $7 million for UGA to partner with historically Black Fort Valley State University on agricultural research.

At both stops, Warnock was introduced by Mayor Kelly Girtz, who delivered an uncharacteristic attack on Walker’s “incoherent rambling” at the Chapel rally, where Democratic attorney general candidate Jen Jordan accused Walker of spreading a QAnon election fraud conspiracy theory that conflated the blonde Georgia state senator with a blonde poll worker in Pennsylvania.

Warnock did not mention his opponent on campus, however, saving his fire for the Nellie B rally, where he attacked Walker over his comment at a recent debate that people with diabetes should “eat right.” Warnock—who inserted a measure capping insulin prices for Medicare recipients into Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act—noted that 11% of Georgians are diabetic. “He’s blaming you. I’m blaming the companies engaged in price-gouging,” Warnock said. “Maybe he should run for dietician. I’m running for U.S. Senate.” 

Warnock also attacked Walker for saying that those with “able-bodied jobs” already have health care. He called on Georgia to expand Medicaid to cover the 600,000 working Georgians who are uninsured. “Maybe it’s because I preach every Sunday on behalf of someone who healed the sick,” Warnock said, “even those with pre-existing conditions.”