Who is Raphael Warnock? Reverend faces Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate runoff

Warnock first won his seat in a 2021 runoff against Kelly Loeffler.

December 6, 2022, 5:16 AM

Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is running in his fourth election in roughly two years as he fights for a full six-year term representing the battleground state.

Warnock is facing Republican Herschel Walker, a businessman and college football legend in Georgia, in Tuesday's runoff after neither reached the 50% threshold in last month's general election, as mandated by state law.

Warnock first won his seat in the Senate in a 2021 runoff after neither he nor then-Sen. Kelly Loeffler garnered 50% of the vote in their first matchup in November 2020.

A noted reverend, Warnock -- whom Republicans have sought to cast as too liberal for the state -- has campaigned on a personal history steeped in religion, service and social justice. He has also touted his current work during his short time in Congress, including some bipartisan priorities, while Walker calls him merely a vote for President Joe Biden's policies on inflation and more.

"I'm not a senator who used to be a pastor. You might as well know that you sent a pastor to the Senate," Warnock told canvassers in October.

He grew up in public housing in Savannah, the 11th of 12 children to two Pentecostal preachers. He ultimately attended Morehouse College, a historically Black institution in Atlanta, before earning a master's and doctoral degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

PHOTO: Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) speaks during a Meet and Greet event at St. John Baptist Church Dec. 4, 2022 in Gainesville, Ga.
Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) speaks during a Meet and Greet event at St. John Baptist Church Dec. 4, 2022 in Gainesville, Ga. Sen. Warnock continues to campaign throughout Georgia for the runoff election on December 6 against his Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

During the 1990s, he served as the youth pastor and assistant pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, a church with an extensive history of fighting for several social justice causes.

The church refused to hire workfare recipients in protest against then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani's requirement that welfare recipients work to receive benefits, and it hosted Fidel Castro in 1995 while Warnock was youth pastor, though there is no evidence indicating Warnock was part of the decision-making process of welcoming Cuba's authoritarian leader.

Warnock in November traveled back to Abyssinian to honor his late mentor, the preacher Calvin Butts, whom he said helped inspire his passion for social issues.

"Calvin Butts taught me how to take my ministry to the streets," Warnock said in a eulogy, according to The New York Times. "He understood that the church's work doesn't end at the church door. That's where it starts."

After Abyssinian, Warnock worked at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore before ultimately returning to Georgia to serve as senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was famously led by Martin Luther King Jr. Warnock was featured at several prominent events, including former President Barack Obama's second inauguration and the funeral for Georgia Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement.

Also, from 2017-2020, Warnock chaired the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan voter registration effort.

Reverend Raphael Warnock, Democratic Senator for Georgia, speaks during a "Get Out the Vote" midterm runoff election rally and Teamsters worksite visit at a UPS facility in Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 5, 2022.
Cheney Orr/Reuters

In 2020, before the election, Warnock was accused by then-wife Ouleye of running over her foot amid their divorce proceedings. She told responding officers that Warnock "crossed a line" and suggested he was manipulative, calling him a "great actor."

However, neither police nor medical professionals were able to find evidence to show that she was injured, and Warnock was not charged with any crimes. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of his then-wife's claim: "It didn't happen."

Warnock first ran for office in 2020 against Loeffler, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by late Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned because of health issues. After defeating Loeffler in 2021, Warnock became the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from the South and, along with Jon Ossoff, the first Democratic senator elected in Georgia in some 20 years.

While in the Senate, Warnock has vociferously advocated for expansions to health care access, particularly around Medicaid, and emerged as one of the leading voices to lower the cost of insulin. He successfully advocated for language in the Inflation Reduction Act, which ultimately became law, to cap cost for the medication at $35 for people on Medicare.

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