ATLANTA—In late July, Democratic political giants filed into the towering sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church to mourn the death of an era, and to declare a new one to come. This is the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, and where Representative John Lewis, the civil-rights icon, was now being laid to rest. Lewis’s pastor, Raphael Warnock, stood before the congregation in a black pulpit robe with Kente-cloth panels and lamented the cynicism of this time in American politics. “In a moment when there are some in high office who are much better at division than vision, who cannot lead us so they seek to divide us,” he said, “here lies a true American patriot.” As former President Barack Obama took the lectern, he turned to Warnock, locked eyes, and pointed.
This was not just a funeral for Lewis and the civil-rights movement. It was a rally for a different America, one where health-care coverage is universal, police officers are traded for social workers, and bail has gone the way of the horse and buggy. Democrats intend for November’s elections to be the first step toward building that America.
Warnock wants to help Democrats remake the country. The pastor is hoping his association with King and other civil-rights leaders will come in handy during his campaign for one of Georgia’s two United States Senate seats on the ballot in November. Polling experts consider Warnock’s race competitive, and if he wins, he could be the first Democratic senator elected from Georgia in two decades, and the first Black senator from Georgia ever. His pitch, modeled after his close ally Stacey Abrams’s 2018 gubernatorial bid, is based on math, motivation, and morality. Georgia’s voter base has transformed in recent years, with a surge in registrations among young people and racial minorities. Democrats are betting on high turnout, driven by anger about racist violence, outrage over Trump, and frustration with how the state has handled COVID-19. And Warnock’s supporters believe his identity as a progressive pastor and activist will help him win in Georgia, a state where three-quarters of the population attend religious services at least somewhat regularly.