Pastor of Atlanta’s Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church Mulls Senate Bid

Rep. Raphael Warnock at the state Capitol in March. (Kent D. Johnson, kdjohnson@ajc.com)
Rep. Raphael Warnock at the state Capitol in March. (Kent D. Johnson, kdjohnson@ajc.com)

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, said Thursday he is considering a run for U.S. Senate against Johnny Isakson, a move that could jolt the Republican’s sleepy bid for a third term.

Warnock, 46, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he would meet with friends, family and members of his congregation this month and soon make up his mind.

“I’ve been around Atlanta now for 10 years now, advocating for issues,” said Warnock. “The question now for me is should I continue to advocate from the outside or should I consider a venture on the inside?”

He would become the first Democrat to challenge Isakson, who recently announced he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but said it would not jeopardize his ability to serve.

From his pulpit at Ebenezer, once held by Martin Luther King Jr., Warnock has blasted a controversial gun rights bill, called on Republicans to expand Medicaid, pushed for more muscular voting rights laws and led efforts to register more left-leaning black voters.

“I’m very concerned about a host of issues that have to do with public policy,” Warnock said in the interview. “I am a pastor, but I see on the ground the ways that decisions made in Washington impact the people I love and care about.”

Warnock would give Democrats an instant jolt in the race against Isakson, who enjoys high name recognition and popularity across the aisle. Former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, said earlier this year that “even Democrats like me like Isakson.”

Although Warnock would be a first-time candidate if he chooses to run, he would have built-in advantages that other novice politicians don’t enjoy. He is already frequently in front of the cameras – just last week he criticized the placement of Confederate battle flags at Ebenezer as a terroristic act – and no stranger to political activism.

If he runs, Democrats hope his unabashedly left-leaning positions help him appeal to the base and that his Ebenezer training can help attract droves of minority voters in time for the presidential race. His candidacy would likely be a striking contrast to the last Georgia Democrat who ran for Senate, Michelle Nunn, who sought to position herself as a moderate.

He would also have to decide whether he would remain on Ebenezer’s pulpit during a frenzied campaign. Warnock said legally he can do so, and pointed to a long history of clergy members who have served in Congress, but he said he would have to talk to church leaders and other advisers before making that decision.

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SOURCE: Atlanta Journal Constitution
Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

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