Raphael Gamaliel Warnock is an American pastor and politician who is a United States senator-elect from Georgia. He will assume office in January 2021 after the results of his election are certified, succeeding incumbent senator Kelly Loeffler. Warnock will be the first African-American United States senator from Georgia, the first African-American Democrat from the Southern United States to serve in the Senate, and one of the first two Democratic U.S. senators from Georgia in 16 years since Zell Miller left office in 2005, alongside Jon Ossoff. He was the senior pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church until 2005 when he became senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Warnock came to prominence in Georgia politics as a leading activist in the campaign to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. A member of the Democratic Party, he ran in the 2020–21 United States Senate special election in Georgia, which multiple major news outlets have called in his favor.
Early life and education
Warnock is from Savannah, Georgia. He grew up in public housing as the eleventh of twelve children born to Verlene and Jonathan Warnock, both Pentecostal pastors. His father served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he learned automobile mechanics and welding, and subsequently opened a small car restoration business where he restored junked cars for resale.
Warnock graduated from Sol C. Johnson High School and, having wanted to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., attended Morehouse College, where he earned a B.A. in psychology. He credits his participation in the Upward Bound program for making him college-ready, as he was able to enroll in early college courses through Savannah State University. He then earned Master of Divinity, Master of Philosophy, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Union Theological Seminary, a school affiliated with Columbia University.
In the 1990s, Warnock served as the youth pastor and then assistant pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York. While Warnock was pastor at Abyssinian, the church declined to hire workfare recipients as part of organized opposition to then-mayor Rudy Giuliani's workfare program.
In the 2000s, Warnock was senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland, During that time, Warnock and an assistant minister were arrested and charged with obstructing a police investigation into suspected child abuse at a church-run camp. The charges were later dropped with the deputy state's attorney's acknowledgment that it had been a "miscommunication", adding that Warnock had aided the investigation and that prosecution would be a waste of resources. Warnock said he was only asserting that lawyers should be present during the interviews. Warnock said that he had intervened to ensure that an adult was present while a juvenile suspect was being questioned.
In 2005, Warnock became senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr.'s former congregation; he is the fifth and the youngest person to serve as Ebenezer's senior pastor since its founding. Warnock has stated that he will continue in the post while serving in the senate.
As pastor, Warnock advocated for clemency for Troy Davis, who was executed in 2011. In 2013, he delivered the benediction at the public prayer service at the second inauguration of Barack Obama. In March 2019, Warnock hosted an interfaith meeting on climate change at his church, featuring Al Gore and William Barber II.
Warnock came to prominence in Georgia politics as a leader in the campaign to expand Medicaid in the state. In March 2014, Warnock led a sit-in at the Georgia State Capitol to press state legislators to accept the expansion of Medicaid offered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He and other leaders were arrested during the protest. In 2015, Warnock considered running in the 2016 election for the United States Senate seat held by Johnny Isakson as a member of the Democratic Party. He opted not to run.
From June 2017 to January 2020, Warnock chaired the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan organization focused on voter registration.
Warnock supports expanding the Affordable Care Act and has called for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. He also supports increasing COVID-19-relief funding. A proponent of abortion rights and gay marriage, he has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. He opposes the concealed carry of firearms, saying that religious leaders do not want guns in places of worship. Warnock has long opposed the death penalty, having advocated for death row inmate Troy Davis, who was executed in 2011 for killing a police officer despite evidence that supported his innocence.
In January 2020, Warnock decided to run in the 2020 special election for the U.S. Senate seat held by Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed after Isakson's resignation. He was endorsed by Democratic senators Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jeff Merkley, Chris Murphy, Bernie Sanders, Brian Schatz, and Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Stacey Abrams, and former presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter. Several players of the Atlanta Dream, a WNBA team co-owned by Loeffler, wore shirts endorsing Warnock in response to controversial comments Loeffler made about the Black Lives Matter movement.
The closing argument of Warnock's campaign focused on the $2,000 stimulus payments that he and Jon Ossoff would approve if they were to win their elections and give Democrats a majority in the Senate.
As of January 6, 2021, multiple networks have called the race for Warnock. As a result, Warnock will be the first African-American Democrat to represent a former Confederate state in the United States Senate. As of January 6, it was expected that several days would be needed to certify the vote, a prerequisite for the newly elected senators to take office.