If judging solely based on national media coverage, one might wrongly assume there are only two viable Black senatorial candidates in the upcoming fall elections.
In one corner, there’s Senator Raphael Warnock, who defeated then-Senator Kelly Loeffler in a special election last year. In the other, his current challenger for reelection, former NFL star Herschel Walker, who has largely been covered in terms of the chaos and various controversies emanating from his campaign. The latest example: newly uncovered video footage of Walker falsely claiming not only did he used to be an FBI agent, but he once nearly killed a man.
Walker had already been called out on past false assertions of working in law enforcement, but in the 2019 clip that resurfaced this week, Walker is seen saying that he “spent time at Quantico”—a reference to the FBI Academy located in Virginia.
“Y'all didn’t know I was an agent,” Walker said. “I probably shouldn’t tell you that. Y’all don’t care.”
That didn’t stop him from continuing the story of one alleged encounter.
“So I grab my gun,” Walker explained. “I say ‘I will kill him.’”
“Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy, I’m going to kill him,” he added.
Let Walker tell it, he still “remembers the voices.”
Perhaps the voices Walker recalls are from the short-lived TV series Quantico, which he might have binged on Netflix recently. But given his troubled past, who knows?
Unfortunately, none of that has changed the reality that despite all of his lies, past transgressions, and inability to form coherent sentences around policy positions, Walker could conceivably become the second Black person to serve as a U.S. senator of Georgia after Warnock.
Walker currently trails Warnock by only a few points, but as the Republican nominee with the backing of former President Donald Trump and his party’s leadership, he will undoubtedly net millions of votes no matter what happens between now and November.
As The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb put it: “No one in the G.O.P. leadership can possibly believe that Walker is fit to hold a Senate seat, but the hope—as dangerous as it is cynical—is that he may be able to win one. And that joke would most certainly be on us.”
It’s frustrating that even after Warnock’s historic victory in Georgia—a state national Democrats discounted until the work of other Black organizers benefitted them—Black senate candidates continue to be ignored this way.
Walker’s only qualification is that he won the Heisman Trophy in the 1980s and Donald Trump likes him. In theory, two Black men in contention for a Senate seat should be a triumph, but that is tainted by Walker having no damn business holding public office at any level. As much as I support Black representation in the Senate, I would like to think we can do better than this.
In fact, I know we can, because there are several Black folks running for the U.S. Senate who speak as if they have read books within the last century. For starters, there are two Black women running for Senate in North Carolina and Florida, respectively.
In May, Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice for the North Carolina state Supreme Court, emerged as the nominee after defeating a crowded field that included six Black women in a race to replace retiring Republican Senator Richard Burr.
Additionally, there is Congresswoman Val Demmings, who previously served as an impeachment manager in Trump’s first impeachment trial and was shortlisted for vice president in 2020, challenging Senator Marco Rubio in Florida.
Given the void left by Kamala Harris’ departure from the Senate, one would assume more outlets would make a bigger deal about the Black women seeking to rectify this. That’s not to say they haven’t been covered at all, but certainly not with the intensity nor the volume of Walker’s campaign. (That is, besides Black media outlets, of course.)
The only Black female senatorial candidate who has garnered a comparable level of coverage thus far is former GOP Pennsylvania senate candidate Kathy Barnette, and that was only due to a late rise in the polls that could not be ignored. Yet she, like Walker, didn’t appear to know much about the job she was seeking. Still, she managed to suck up all of the airtime at the expense of others. (See: Malcolm Kenyatta, a gay Black man also representing Pennsylvania who spoke openly about his work to convince voters and the press that he was indeed “electable” before losing his primacy race.)
Perhaps things might fair better for Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, who is currently seeking to challenge Senator Ron Johnson later this fall, should he win the nomination. Barnes leads the polls alongside Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry. Then again, Charles Booker won the primary contest in Kentucky to challenge Senator Rand Paul, but has been ignored by national Democrats as well as much of the press.
In “This Progressive Insists He Can Beat Rand Paul. Why Are Dems Ignoring Him?” The Daily Beast’s Ursula Perano writes that Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Sen. Gary Peters claimed there are other races the organization is watching more closely.
However, as Denise Gray, who served as deputy political director for former Kentucky senatorial candidate Amy McGrath, points out, “By turning a blind eye to the state of Kentucky, they are just giving up.” As someone that has written about politics for well over a decade now, I can confirm this is a common complaint about political candidates in purported “red states.” It’s even more common for Black candidates seeking statewide office.
I previously wrote about how candidates like Booker, Mike Espy in Mississippi, and even pre-runoff Warnock each had more political viability than presumed by their party and the political press corps.
It’s frustrating that even after Warnock’s historic victory in Georgia—a state national Democrats discounted until the work of other Black organizers benefitted them—Black senate candidates continue to be ignored this way. That is no fault of Herschel Walker, but it does make me question how such an unserious person can garner so much attention while more credible Black candidates are missing from the spotlight.
It’s always been bullshit, but given the climate and continued necessity of Black voters for Democrats to maintain power, it is a disastrous habit in desperate need of changing.