Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young rode his scooter alongside Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, Martin Luther King III and a fervent crowd of protesters through a southwest Atlanta neighborhood on a recent Sunday. The group stopped at an early polling place to vote and formed a queue with some waiting for up to an hour to cast their ballots.
At 90, Young says he’s selective about public appearances, but felt the “Souls to the Polls” event was one where he could motivate black voters in Tuesday’s hotly contested U.S. Senate election between Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker – a historic matchup between two black men.
Community leaders and political observers say the black vote has consistently played a critical role in high-stakes races for Democrats, including in 2021, when Warnock defeated the then-senator. Kelly Loeffler in a second round. Black voters likely to vote are nearly unanimous in their support for the Democrat (96% Warnock to 3% Walker), according to a CNN poll released last week that showed Warnock with a slight lead.
A second runoff victory for Warnock could again depend on black voter turnout in a subsequent race. If Warnock wins, it would give Democrats a clean majority in the Senate — a majority that doesn’t depend on Vice President Kamala Harris’ casting vote and that gives Majority Leader Chuck Schumer more control over key committees and some leeway in potentially divisive judicial and administrative confirmation. fight.
Voting, Young said, is the “road to prosperity” for the black community. He noted that Atlanta’s mass transit system and economic growth have been enabled by voters.
“Where we voted, we prospered,” said Young.
The rally led by Young, King and Warnock appears to have set the tone for many black Georgia voters. Early voting swept across the state last week, and long lines were reported in the greater Atlanta area. More than 1.85 million votes had already been cast by Sunday, with black voters accounting for nearly 32% of the turnout, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. The early voting period, which had been significantly shortened from 2021, ended on Friday.
Billy Honor, director of the New Georgia Project Action Fund organization, said black turnout so far looks promising for Democrats.
“When we get a black voter turnout in elections statewide that is between 31 and 33%, that is usually good for the Democrats,” Honor said. “If it’s between 27 and 30%, that’s usually good for Republicans.”
Honor added: “This has an impact on the election because we know that if you are a Democratic candidate, the coalition you have to put together is a certain number of highly educated white people, a certain number of women in general, as many young people as you can get – and black voters. That’s the coalition. (Former president) Barack Obama was able to crush that coalition in 2008 in ways we hadn’t seen before.”
Young said he believes black voters are more likely to turn out for runoff elections, which historically have lower turnout than general elections, when the candidate is likeable and relatable.
Warnock is a beloved figure in Atlanta’s black community, who was pastor of the church once led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He grew up in social housing and relied on student loans to complete his studies.
Young said Warnock’s story is inspiring.
“He’s an exciting personality, he’s a great preacher,” Young said. “He speaks from his heart and he talks about how he and his family rose in the Deep South and developed an amazing life.”
Young said some black voters may also vote against Walker, who has made a series of public blunders, lacks political experience and has a history of allegations of violent and threatening behavior.
Last week’s CNN poll found that Walker has many questions about his fairness and suffers from a negative preference score, while nearly half of those who support him say their vote is more about opposition to Warnock than support for Walker.
Views of Warnock are narrowly positive, with 50% of likely voters having a favorable view, 45% unfavorable, while Georgia voters are more likely to have a negative view of Walker (52%) than a positive one (39% ).
Still, Walker is known as a Heisman Trophy-winning football star from the University of Georgia. And of the majority of likely voters in the CNN poll who said issues are a more important factor in their vote than character or integrity, 64% favor Walker.
He campaigned on Sunday with, among others, GOP Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, one of only three black senators currently serving in the chamber. Scott sought to tie Warnock to President Joe Biden — who, like former President Donald Trump, has avoided the Peach State — and reminded voters in Loganville of the GOP’s runoff losses in 2021.
At the event, which began with prayers in Creole, Spanish and Swahili from speakers from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Walker encouraged voting more than usual.
“If you don’t have a friend, make a friend and let them vote,” Walker said.
Some black voters said they were excited to show up last week and cast their first ballot in the second round.
Travie Leslie said she considers it her “civic duty” to vote after all the work Atlanta civil rights leaders have done to ensure black people have the right to vote. Leslie doesn’t mind queuing or voting in multiple elections to make sure a good candidate gets to power.
“I will come 12 times if I have to and I encourage other people to do the same,” Leslie said at the Metropolitan Library polling station in Atlanta on Thursday. “Just stay committed to this because it’s really the best time to be part of the decision making, especially for Georgia.”
Martin Luther King III praised grassroots organizations for registering more black and brown voters since 2020, when Biden carried the state, and for mobilizing Georgians to participate in elections.
Their work has led to long queues of voters in midterm and runoff rounds, King said.
King said he believes Warnock also appeals to black voters in a way that Walker does not.
“Res. Warnock stands out quite well,” said King. “He stayed above the fray and defined what he’s done.”
The black vote, he said, will likely make a difference in which candidate wins the runoff.
“Black voters, if we come en masse, then I believe we (Democrats) will have a huge victory on December 6,” King said.