Warnock’s speech highlighted how his family’s story played a key role in his rise to becoming the first Black Democrat to win a Senate seat in the South since Reconstruction. It came as fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff leads in his runoff and could likewise break new ground as Georgia’s first Jewish senator and the youngest Democratic senator elected since Joe Biden in 1973.
Both Democrats campaigned by leaning into their ties to the African American community in Georgia, where about 33 percent of the population is Black. Ossoff, 33, was boosted by the late civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis, for whom he once interned. Warnock, 51, was bolstered by his family history as well as his position as a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, a hub of Black activism where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was once co-pastor.
Black voters, in turn, delivered in a big way on Tuesday, both in urban and rural districts. In Fulton County, the state’s most populous county and where a substantial share of voters are Black, more in-person voters showed up on Tuesday than on Election Day in November. Rural, majority Black counties like Macon and Randolph likewise saw large turnouts, per the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman.
On the trail, Warnock often recounted his rise from the Kayton Homes housing projects in Savannah to becoming the pastor of King’s Atlanta church.
As Warnock told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2005, his father, Jonathan, salvaged abandoned cars during the week before preaching on the weekends. “He worked on broken cars all week [and] worked on broken people on Sunday morning,” Warnock said.
The family often struggled financially, Warnock said, noting in a campaign video that “we were short on money, but long on love and faith.”
Warnock, the 11th of 12 children, said his family was unconventional. His sister, Valencia, told the Journal-Constitution that their parents encouraged them to think for themselves, challenging them on conventional interpretations of Bible passages. When Warnock’s father took no issue with Verlene becoming a pastor, the Democrat recalled to CNN last month, it was a bold stance.
“I’m very proud of the fact that my dad, given the generation he was part of, was fully supportive of my mother in ministry,” Warnock said. “That’s still not true of some pastors today.”
Warnock opened his victory speech early Wednesday by noting the effect his father, who died in 2010 at the age of 93, had on his life as a pastor, World War II veteran and a small-businessman.
On the trail, he often evoked his mother’s time as a sharecropper. In the days leading up to the runoff election, he shared photos and videos online and spoke at socially distanced events of his mother’s role in his life.
“She told us that we could do anything that we put our minds to,” Warnock said.
Last month, she drove to her polling place in Savannah to cast a ballot for her son. As he did early on Wednesday, Warnock pointed then to his mother’s history as a story of personal triumph.
“God bless her,” he wrote on Twitter over a photo of her wearing an “I’m a Georgia Voter” sticker, “and God bless America.”