This year’s general election has potential to do more than change the White House; it could also change the leadership in Congress. Democrats have been making a push in several key states to win control of the Senate, including in the state of Georgia where both Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face Democratic challengers.
“This is a ‘new South’,” says U.S. Senate candidate Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat who is challenging Sen. Loeffler. “It’s more diverse. It’s forward-looking. It’s inclusive. And it’s ready to flip blue.”
It’s a changing landscape that gives Democrats a chance in a state that has historically been red. In 2018, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams lost her gubernatorial bid to Brian Kemp by a margin of less than 55,000 votes. The election was mired in controversy, with allegations of voter suppression.
“The good news is that since 2018, we've registered 800,000 new voters in the state of Georgia,” Warnock explained, with nearly half being minorities, while 45% were under the age of 30. “You are witnessing the emergence of the New South, the reversal of the Southern strategy, and Georgia is the tip of the spear.”
Warnock explained that economic worries are motivating voters to the polls, particularly during a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Black Americans.
In Atlanta, the median income of a white household stands at nearly $84,000, compared to that of Black households which hovers at just over $28,000, according to the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative.
“There's no question that a lot of people are in pain across racial lines, but these issues do disproportionately impact Black people and people of color,” Warnock explained.
“We saw obviously a large transfer of Black wealth during the Great Recession. Black households have not recovered in the same way and at the same rate. And then with COVID-19 pandemic poorly managed nationally and here by our state government officials, it's been a one-two punch for Black families. And so I think people are very motivated.”
Health care has also been a top issue for Georgia voters, where the state enacted only partial expansion of Medicaid — a health care benefit for those in poverty — tying it to work requirements and higher poverty levels than what the federal government requires.
“When Georgia refused to expand Medicaid in this state, I stood up and said, we have to expand Medicaid. At that point, we had 400,000 Georgians in the Medicaid gap,” Warnock said. “Now we have 500,000. Thanks in part to COVID-19, folks are in the Medicaid gap. People don't have access to the care that they need. Rural hospitals in this state are closing while we're subsidizing health care in other states. Not only is it impacting our health care system, it's a drag on our economy.”
Warnock told Yahoo Finance that voters are responding to his platform calling for expanded Medicaid, and an “essential wage” for essential workers.
The special election for Loeffler’s seat is a close one, with six candidates, including a Republican challenger. It is largely expected no candidate will take the majority of the votes, triggering a runoff election (under Georgia’s election laws, a candidate must secure an outright majority in order to win). According to latest polling, Warnock holds an 11 point lead over Loeffler.
Loeffler faced criticism after it was revealed she had sold $18 million in stock before a crash in the markets due to the pandemic after attending an intelligence briefing on the coronavirus.
“I think that senators should put their stocks in a blind trust,” Warnock said.
“They shouldn't be playing the stock game. When people send someone to Washington D.C., they don't send them there to handle their business. They send them there to handle the people's business. And that's what I intend to do,” he said.
Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.