Editor’s Note: Fredrick Hicks is a political strategist and campaign expert. He served as a debate preparation partner for then-candidate Raphael Warnock in 2020. Hicks did not work for the campaign in 2022. He is the owner of his own consulting firm, HEG. The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
There is a saying in the African American community that goes, “I am living my ancestor’s wildest dreams.”
After a bruising, long and historically expensive campaign season in Georgia, Sen. Raphael Warnock won reelection as one of Georgia’s two Democratic US Senators. He made history in 2021, when he was elected as the first African American US Senator from the Peach State, but it was only to complete the term for the recently deceased Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.
On December 6, Warnock again made history – this time as the first African American US Senator to be elected to a full term in the history of Georgia. While this might sound redundant, had he lost, Warnock would have been relegated to a historical footnote, ignominiously known as one of the shortest serving Senators in US History, serving just a few months longer than the person he defeated, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
Instead, Warnock stands as one of only 11 African Americans to ever serve in our nation’s highest legislative chamber, and he did it in a cycle where Democrats across the southeast suffered defeat after defeat.
In so doing, Warnock is now the leader of a new generation of Democratic leaders, including the likes of House Minority Leader-elect Hakeem Jeffries, Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who are younger and more diverse than their predecessors.
Warnock is also well poised to be the leader of the Democratic renaissance in the southeast and to help maintain a Democratic majority in the Senate beyond 2024. In fact, should he decide to pursue even higher political office, Warnock could become just the second Georgian, after Jimmy Carter, to represent their party as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
Context is everything, including in politics. Nationally, Democrats fared better than anticipated. However, in the southeast, the red wave swept over every state, washing away many powerful Democrats in the region – from Virginia down to Florida.
In the 2021-2022 cycle, Warnock emerged as the most prominent statewide Democrat to win across the entire region. His name has been on the ballot five times in two years, and he was the leading vote recipient each time – including two runoff elections, one against an uber wealthy White woman and the other against arguably the most famous football player in state history in a state where football is king.
Further, as of two weeks before the runoff, Warnock had raised more than $284 million since first becoming a candidate, a figure which will likely approach $300 million after the counting is finished, making him one of the most prolific non-presidential fundraisers in recent memory. In a game where votes and money are the barometers of success and viability, Warnock has more of both than anyone – something his ancestors never could have imagined.
As Democrats turn their attention to identifying a successor to President Joe Biden, now or down the line they should have Georgia on their minds.
This is a generational moment and potential opportunity to move a center-left agenda forward for the country. With large states like California, Illinois and New York safely in the Democratic ledger, if the nominee can compete and win in southern states, then it will be nearly impossible for any Republican to win the presidency for the foreseeable future.
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With each of his five wins, Warnock has demonstrated his ability to raise money, win White voters (something African American candidates must address), inspire minorities and energize the Democratic base. While working hard and prioritizing the right issues such that a core group of Republican voters are OK with him, he’s run positive campaigns with strategic attacks on his opponents – all while holding down two other important jobs, being a father to two young children and the occasional caregiver to America’s favorite beagle.
Regardless of who runs in 2024, Warnock will be the most valuable asset and endorser for the Democratic Party. Should Biden decide not to run for reelection, Warnock should be the Democratic Party’s first choice to lead them back to the presidency.
After all, is there a better shepherd than a pastor?