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U.S. Senate Candidates From Georgia To Face Runoff Election In January

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Georgia, where the race for Senate continues. To be clear, both Senate seats in Georgia are up for grabs. The first is a two-man race. That's incumbent Republican David Perdue. He's currently leading Democrat Jon Ossoff. That one's yet to be called. And a winner in the other race - that is months away. The top two vote-getters yesterday, Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock, will meet in a runoff in January since no candidate received 50% of the vote yesterday. Reverend Warnock joins me now.

Reverend, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Thank you so much. It's great to be with you.

KELLY: Good to have you with us. So you took first in a crowded race but 32% of the vote. As we mentioned, you need 50% to get over the bar in Georgia. What's your strategy going into January to win over a bunch more Georgia voters?

WARNOCK: Oh, I'm going to keep on lifting up the message of centering the concerns of ordinary people in our politics. You know, I think the problem with our politics these days is that too often, it's really about the politicians - who's up, who's down, who's in, who's out. Meanwhile, ordinary people, the folks that I've been talking to all across the state of Georgia, are trying to figure out how they're going to survive and do the best by their families in these very difficult times. I hail from a state where - we're one of 12 states that has yet to refuse - we've yet to expand Medicaid in this state. And so we've got over half a million Georgians in the Medicaid gap. We've got 1.8 million Georgians with pre-existing conditions who stand to lose their coverage if Kelly Loeffler has her way and we get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

KELLY: So I hear you focusing there on the issues - health care and others. Your task - if I can just stick with the politics for a moment, though, your task just got harder in that Doug Collins, the Republican congressman who was also in the race - he took third place yesterday. He's thrown his support to his fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler. How concerned are you about that, about this unifying Republican voters behind Loeffler now that Collins is out?

WARNOCK: I think that there's a reason why people have responded in such a powerful way to my message and the work that I've been doing over these last few months. It's because I've centered their concerns rather than the concerns of the politicians. I really have been much more focused on who I'm running for rather than who I'm running against. And so that won't change in this runoff.

I'm a kid who grew up in public housing, one of 12 children in my family. I'm the first college graduate. I know the impact that good public policy has on the lives of ordinary people. I want to make sure that children who come not only from public housing, but disaffected rural communities have access to the American dream. And that's what my race is about.

KELLY: I want to note another way that the race changes going forward, which is you're now in this runoff that's going to be voted in January, by which point the presidential race will hopefully be settled. Please help us (laughter). I hope the presidential race is settled by January.

WARNOCK: Sure.

KELLY: But it does mean yours is likely to get lots of national attention. Are you ready for political groups, political money from all over to get involved?

WARNOCK: I think that there will be a lot of interest in this race, but the real concerns are the concerns of people here on the ground in Georgia. They're concerned about the future of the state. They're wondering why Kelly Loeffler has spent the last few months in Washington, in a position to which she was appointed, focused on her own portfolio rather than the people she's supposed to represent. And so I think that that's where the real energy is. Others will take some interest in that fight, but I intend to center the concerns of Georgians.

KELLY: I want people listening who don't know to know that you are the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. And you and I've had the chance to speak before. We sat down together in June. We were on a bench outside the patio at Paschal's, this soul food...

WARNOCK: I remember.

KELLY: ...Institution (ph) in Atlanta.

WARNOCK: Yeah.

KELLY: That was a difficult moment. It was right after George Floyd was killed. The city was under curfew. And we talked about your call for people to take the moral high ground. I wonder if you would update that for this moment, November, when, if anything, the country feels more divided.

WARNOCK: Yeah, I think that is so important that we remind ourselves that at the end of the day, we really are all we've got. And I think in today's hyper-partisan environment, with people wearing red jerseys and blue jerseys, we too often forget that we're really on the same team. If my neighbor doesn't have health care in the middle of a global pandemic, then I'm imperiled, and so I need that person covered. But I also need their children to have access to a good-quality education. And so I intend to lift that up and to remind us what we have in common and not the things that separate us.

KELLY: All right. Reverend, thank you for your time.

WARNOCK: Great to be with you.

KELLY: That is Raphael Warnock, pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. He faces, as you heard, a January runoff against Republican Kelly Loeffler. And I want to note we have asked Senator Loeffler for an interview as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.