Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has drawn the first Republican challengers in his bid to hold the seat he won in historic fashion during the 2020 election cycle.
Latham Saddler, an Atlanta banking executive and U.S. Navy SEAL veteran, opened his candidacy in an announcement highlighting his tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and tenure as a National Security Council official in former President Donald Trump’s administration.
Saddler’s candidacy comes after Kelvin King, an Atlanta small-business owner in construction and U.S. Air Force veteran, jumpstarted his campaign earlier this week. A Black man, King aims to unseat Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator in Warnock.
Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, rocketed to national prominence along with fellow Georgia Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff after winning runoffs Jan. 5 to hand Democrats control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.
It marked the first time Democrats have held both Senate seats in Georgia since 2002.
Their races against former Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue attracted record-setting campaign donations and put Georgia on the political map as a battleground state for years to come.
Unlike Ossoff, Warnock will need to win election in 2022 for a full six-year term after claiming victory in the recent runoff to fill the remaining two years of retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term.
Warnock’s 2020 campaign focused on boosting health care for Georgians via Medicaid expansion and protecting voter rights, both issues the freshman senator will likely lean on during his 2022 reelection bid.
Election laws should also feature prominently in the race after Republican state lawmakers overhauled Georgia’s mail-in and early voting rules, sparking controversy in the legislative session that ended late last month.
Georgia’s candidate field for 2022 is taking shape early with several high-profile announcements in recent weeks, including Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan’s run for state attorney general against the Republican incumbent, Chris Carr.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jody Hice of Greensboro has also launched a primary challenge against Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, as has former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.
Gov. Brian Kemp, the state’s top Republican, has drawn a primary challenger in Appling County educator Kandiss Taylor. He could face a slew of other primary contenders before likely battling his 2018 Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams in a rematch for governor.
Democrats in Georgia are pushing to continue building momentum amid changing suburban demographics and strong grassroots efforts that saw the party win the state’s presidential election and the two Senate seats in the 2020 cycle.
Republicans are angling to lock in their current statewide seats and reverse 2020 losses such as Warnock’s seat and suburban Atlanta congressional districts that flipped for Democrats in recent years but could swing back to Republicans after redistricting this fall. Republicans will be in charge of the redistricting process because they control both chambers in the General Assembly.
Also up for grabs statewide in 2022 will be Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s seat, though his office recently signaled he may not seek a second term. Contenders are likewise lining up to run for Georgia labor and insurance commissioners.
The upcoming primary elections are set for May 24, 2022, and the general elections set for Nov. 8, 2022.
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Photo: Rev. Raphael Warnock (front) campaigns with Stacey Abrams (back) on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)