Georgia Senate primaries will set up high-stakes showdown


U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (left) and Georgia football legend Herschel Walker (right) are poised to win their primaries on May 24 and face off in the general election in November. (Right, Amanda Andrade-Rhoades, Left, Ben Gray/AP Photo)

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker have six challengers between them in Tuesday’s primaries, but the two are already looking ahead to the general election as the GOP tries to take back the seat Warnock won last year, helping Democrats squeak out a congressional majority.

Republicans looking to regain control of the Senate have targeted the Georgia race, with former President Donald Trump throwing his heft behind Walker, a former college football celebrity with huge name recognition. Five candidates hope to get Walker below the 50% mark needed to avoid a runoff, however.

On the Democratic side, Warnock is looking to defend the seat he narrowly won in a special election in 2021. He has one opponent in the primary — beauty industry professional Tamara Johnson-Shealey — but she has shown few signs of posing a serious threat to him.

A general election matchup between Warnock and Walker would mark the first time that two major party candidates for U.S. Senate in Georgia were Black.

Warnock is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. He became the first Black senator elected from Georgia when he defeated appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in 2021 weeks after Democrats won the state’s presidential election for the first time since 1992.

As a senator, Warnock has derided Republicans’ push for tighter voting rules, calling them “Jim Crow in new clothes;” stressed his work in bringing home funding for health care, national security research and other projects; and highlighted his efforts to try to cap the cost of insulin and temporarily suspend the federal gasoline tax.

Johnson-Shealey owned a salon and founded two professional organizations for the beauty and barber industry, according to her campaign website. Her platform calls for reparations for slavery, Medicare for all and a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

On the Republican side, Walker — a political newcomer — has nearly unmatched name recognition in Georgia from his days as a college football running back. He led the University of Georgia football team to a national title during the 1980 season and won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. He counts Trump as a close friend.

But some of his Republican opponents have questioned his electability. Walker has a history of violence against women and has made multiple gaffes on the campaign trail. He also skipped the primary debates. He has been open about his long struggle with mental illness and acknowledged violent urges.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has made the sharpest attacks on Walker, saying he can’t win in November because of domestic violence allegations and other past problems. Former Trump administration official and Navy veteran Latham Saddler has questioned Walker’s preparation for a potential debate with Warnock.

The other GOP primary candidates are: retired brigadier general Jon McColumn; contractor and Air Force veteran Kelvin King and former state Rep. Josh Clark.