Black voters not fooled by Republicans’ racial tokenism with Herschel Walker
President Donald Trump, right, pats former football player Herschel Walker on the back center, as he teaches Ivanka Trump how to throw a football, May 29, 2018. Walker was the Trump-endorsed GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterms. The GOP thought putting up a Black candidate of their own would be enough to draw votes away from Sen. Raphael Warnock. | Andrew Harnik / AP

Rev. Dr. Sen. Raphael Warnock has made history by being the first Black senator elected to a full six-year term in Georgia history. His victory was secured despite the Republican Party’s racist voter suppression and “any other Black person will do” tactics.

Black voters—who are more than a quarter of the Georgia electorate—made up the strong nucleus of Warnock’s multi-racial coalition of supporters. They thwarted the efforts of the nearly all-white right-wing voting bloc that was hellbent on putting Trump-picked Herschel Walker in office. This victory, and the fight leading up to it, is yet another example of the need to value and champion the power of Black voters. It also exemplifies the racism and suppression tactics that still derail the fight for true democracy.

Sen. Warnock has a long history in public service and community activism. In 2005, he became senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta—the same house of worship led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2014, he was one of the leaders of a campaign to expand Medicaid in Georgia. Warnock has been active on climate change, wealth inequality, and voter suppression. He is for a woman’s right to choose abortion and a supporter of marriage equality. Since his time in office, he has shown himself to be a capable candidate not only for issues concerning the Black population, but working people as a whole.

Logic would say that, in looking for a way to take Warnock’s seat, the Republican Party would put forward a candidate who could win over Warnock supporters and be viewed as just as capable as the reverend. Instead, they picked Herschel Walker, a former football star with no real political experience aside from vocally supporting Donald Trump and his conspiracy theories questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 elections.

Months ago, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham did an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity in which he insisted that Walker’s running changed “the entire narrative of the left.” Graham told Hannity that it pushed against the idea that “we’re a party of racists, Sean. Me and you are racists. The Republican Party is racist.” He asked, “What happens when the Republican Party elects and nominates Herschel Walker, an African American, Black Heisman Trophy winner, right? Olympian. It destroys the whole narrative.”

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock with supporters on election day, Dec. 6, 2022, in Norcross, Ga. | Brynn Anderson / AP

Actually, it didn’t change the narrative. It re-enforced it.

Walker wasn’t picked for his skills or experience. He was picked because of his loyalty to Trump, his parroting of GOP conservative “values,” and for being Black. The GOP saw all of these elements intertwining together to give them a puppet…er…candidate they felt would help them on a number of fronts.

It was their way of fighting against the (true) narrative that the Republican Party is leaning more and more towards emboldened racism and extremism. They also saw it as a way to confuse Black voters—who have historically voted Democrat—to dilute their backing of the progressive candidate. The notion was based purely on the fact that their own candidate shared their same skin tone; they actually thought that would be enough to do the trick. The GOP achieved neither of these goals because their tactic was steeped in ignorance and bigotry when it comes to Black voters and the overall changing political landscape.

Walker was used as a token—touted out as the “right kind of” Black person for the GOP.

When Warnock won his 2021 runoff against then Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, it was due in part to a good amount of support from Black voters. But they didn’t back Warnock just because he was Black. They backed him because he was a better candidate than Loeffler, who took a public stance opposing the Black Lives Matter movement and faced multiple allegations of corruption. Yet all Trump and the GOP could see was that Black voters showed up for a Black candidate, and, therefore, Republicans needed a Black candidate of their own to compete.

To be clear, Black voters are not a monolith. There’s an idea, sometimes pushed from various corners, that Black voters will simply vote Democrat no matter who’s on the ballot. Or that they are more prone to vote for a Black candidate over a white candidate no matter their politics.

These are false narratives that oversimplify and insult the intelligence of Black voters.

For, as recent history has shown, it has been Black voters that have often saved America from itself by voting for candidates that stand for the betterment of democracy as a whole, even when issues specific to the Black community are being overlooked. This has been the case in a number of races, and it was certainly the case in Georgia.

Democracy was on the line in these historic midterm elections. Georgia played a key role in ensuring that the Republican Party, which has further descended into far-right extremism, didn’t gain control of the Senate. Black voters in the state heeded the call, as exit polls showed 90% of them backed Warnock.

The majority of the people who voted for Walker were not Black; they were white conservative voters who, it could be argued, understood that Walker was a token of the GOP, simply put there in hopes of taking the Senate out of the hands of the Democratic Party.

Walker being put on the ballot wasn’t a case of Republicans taking a stance against racism; it was them leaning heavily into it.

The former football player was also used to distract Georgians from the Republican Party’s voter suppression tactics.

Senate Bill 202 (SB 202), signed into law last year by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, put in place a number of voting reforms that aimed to make voting harder for a number of residents.

Some of the new rules include:

– Giving state-level officials the authority to seize the powers of county election boards;

– Banning 24/7 drop boxes at voting locations;

– Shortening the window for voters to apply for mail ballots;

– Limiting the number of drop boxes a county can offer;

– Replacing signature affidavits on mail ballots with a voter ID requirement; and

– Criminalizing the provision of food and water to voters waiting in line.

Bills like SB 202 are not new; they’re part of the Republican playbook to suppress the votes of those they know they cannot win over. These are tactics that have been around for decades—from the Black Codes used to keep newly-freed Black people from voting and killing off Radical Reconstruction following the Civil War to the Republican backlash after the 2008 elections, when the GOP, backed by the wealthy Koch brothers, took elaborate steps to squash the newly energized demographics of the population that showed up in record numbers to put Barack Obama into office.

Black voters were a key bloc in the multi-racial coalition that propelled Warnock to victory. | Brynn Anderson / AP

Georgia is no stranger to this strategy. In the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, over 53,000 voter registration applications, a majority of them submitted by African Americans, were held at the Secretary of State’s office due to the “exact match” policy. In the two years leading up to the 2018 election, Kemp’s office purged nearly 700,000 voters from the state’s rolls.

These efforts have been helped in recent years through the gutting of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by the Supreme Court in 2013. Suppressive voting rules throw hurdles in front of many potential voters, preventing them from turning out to support their candidates of choice. What we know is that when there are fewer restrictions to voting, Republicans lose.

In the days leading up to this year’s historic runoff, Democrats had to sue the State of Georgia over GOP efforts to limit early voting. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and his chief deputy Gabriel Sterling, had instructed county officials that early voting could not occur on the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving, nor on Georgia’s “State Holiday” (which was originally dedicated to the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee).

As Warnock noted in his victory speech: “Let me be clear: The fact that millions of Georgians endured hours in lines, and were willing to spend hours in line—lines that wrapped around buildings and went on for blocks, lines in the cold, lines in the rain—is most certainly not a sign voter suppression does not exist…. When officials in our state tried to block Saturday voting, we sued them, and we won. The people showed up in record numbers within the narrow confines of the time given to them by a state legislature that saw our electoral strength the last time and went after it with surgical precision.”

Warnock’s victory was a resounding rebuke against the GOP’s racist tactics of tokenism and voter suppression. Black voters led the way, but it was also progressive white voters, other voters of color, and younger voters who joined together to display the changing political terrain.

Across the country, we are seeing marginalized demographics of voters showing up not only to vote for candidates, but to run for office themselves. The GOP, however, continues to lean on a strategy of racism because their platform is out of touch with what the majority of working people want and need. Walker’s candidacy was only one example of this, but it won’t be the last.

Democracy is still on the line, but the victory in Georgia shows that plenty of people are willing to fight for it.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.