As Democrats celebrated Sen. Raphael Warnock’s win over Herschel Walker in the U.S. Senate runoff race last night, my phone lit up with a text that perfectly summarized the outcome:
“It took $500 million to have Raphael Warnock win GA by less than half a percentage point. Absolute madness.”
The text came from a former exec in one of Georgia’s largest local governments, someone infinitely familiar with the state’s politics and demographics. But you don’t need to be a creature of Peach State politicking to have drawn the same conclusion. The race did ultimately end up being not quite as tight as it was at the time I got the text—final tallies showed Warnock holding onto his seat for the next six years by three percentage points—but the fact that this particular race was so close, that it came down to the wire, that it was even a contest at all, was, in fact, madness. And it tells us all we need to know about the electorate in Georgia and how cynical we still are nationally.
I’ll spare you a paragraph-long treatise on how bad Walker was as a candidate; if you’ve read this space over the last year you already know about his lies, his history of domestic violence, his hypocrisy and his various scandals. They’re not what needs examining here. What does is why so many people—one-million-seven-hundred-nineteen-thousand-eight-hundred-seventy-nine of them—thought Walker was the best person to have a vote on who sits on the Supreme Court or whether the country goes to war.
The answer to that has a lot to do with race. Reading that, I’m sure, will make the guy (troll) who emailed me this morning to say, without further commentary, “AMERICA is tired of the VICTIM-RACE CARD BULLSHIT!” meltdown. But only in his America could a candidate like Walker have had a shot. Walker offered nothing by way of competence or qualifications for the job he ran for. What he did offer to conservatives was a Blackfaced pass for their regressive politics, someone willing to not only be an apologist but an advocate, even if not a very articulate one, for their attempts to drag women and nonwhite people backwards from the social, economic and political progress of the past 60 years.
Georgia was a fantastic testing ground for that approach because perhaps no other state sits more at the tipping point between progress and regress. Georgia was once the heart of the Confederacy, a home to staunch segregationists and the state that gave us Newt Gingrich and his “Contract With America,” a policy platform that relied on racist tropes about Black immorality and violence to sweep his party into control of Congress. It’s currently a state where twice in the last four years, a Black woman ran competitive races for the governorship, where Atlanta’s suburbs, not just Atlanta itself, have browned beyond comfortability for those who fled under the white flight of a generation ago, and where the lineal successor to Martin Luther King Jr.’s pulpit now represents the state in Congress’ upper chamber.
Walker, as much as anything else, was a test balloon floated to see whether the politics of the Old South could get one more run, as long as it was dressed up as a washed up ex-football star who helped make white folks in red counties like Forsyth, Paulding, Cherokee and Walton feel OK.
It failed this time around, but that shouldn’t make it any less of a reminder that the New Georgia ain’t that much different than the old.