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Georgia Senate: Warnock’s Democratic rivals are staying in the race

July 18, 2019 Atlanta - Portrait of Rev. Raphael Warnock at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Thursday, July 18, 2019. The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock has had busy couple of weeks. After co-hosting a conference on ending mass incarceration in the United States, he was off to Baltimore. And less than 24 hours ago, he was back at Ebenezer for the 45th annual scholarship concert honoring the memory of the late Christine Williams King, affectionately known as Mama King, who was assassinated there 45 years ago. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
July 18, 2019 Atlanta - Portrait of Rev. Raphael Warnock at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Thursday, July 18, 2019. The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock has had busy couple of weeks. After co-hosting a conference on ending mass incarceration in the United States, he was off to Baltimore. And less than 24 hours ago, he was back at Ebenezer for the 45th annual scholarship concert honoring the memory of the late Christine Williams King, affectionately known as Mama King, who was assassinated there 45 years ago. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Rev. Raphael Warnock’s top Democratic rivals said Friday they are staying in the race for the U.S. Senate, even as some national and local party leaders rally around the Atlanta preacher’s newly-launched campaign.

Warnock tallied support from high-profile party figures since entering the race Thursday, including a former presidential contender, a powerful Washington group and Stacey Abrams, the most coveted Democratic endorsement in the state.

They see him as someone who can consolidate Democratic votes against Republican U.S. Kelly Loeffler in a jumbled November special election that also features Doug Collins, a conservative congressman, and other candidates on the same ballot.

The reverend’s Democratic opponents, Matt Lieberman and Ed Tarver, also see themselves as unifying candidates who can prove themselves to Georgia voters. Both said they’re dismissing pressure to ditch the race.

Lieberman, an educator who is the son of the former vice presidential nominee, pointed to a December poll by a conservative-leaning firm showing him leading in a three-way matchup against Loeffler and Collins.

“I’m 100% staying in and looking forward to this stage of the campaign,” Lieberman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And Tarver said he plans to formally launch his campaign with a focus on his experience in the military, in the state Legislature and as former President Barack Obama’s pick for U.S. Attorney covering a broad section of east Georgia.

“I believe that the voters of Georgia, and not top Democrats, will decide who to unify behind,” said Tarver. “This is a decision that will have an enormous impact statewide and nationally. Unity has never been a valid justification for subverting the process.”

If they remain in the contest, it will complicate Democratic hopes to flip one of the party's top targets in the 2020 election. With no primary to hash out nominees, multiple candidates from each party will share the same November ballot.

That makes it harder for one candidate to win a majority needed in November and avoid a January 2021 runoff between the top two vote-getters.

Republicans face a similar challenge after Collins also announced he would run against Loeffler, a wealthy financial executive who was appointed to the job in December by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Warnock, who pastors Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has tried to consolidate his party’s support with help from powerful allies.

Stacey Abrams, the state's leading Democrat, gave Warnock her endorsement hours after he entered the race. So did several national Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a former presidential candidate, and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

He also nabbed the support Friday of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the influential political arm of Senate Democrats.

More recent AJC coverage of the Senate race:

ExploreStacey Abrams backs Warnock’s Senate bid in Georgia

Raphael Warnock, pastor of famed church, enters Georgia Senate race

‘Doubts and questions.’ Collins’ Senate bid opens fissure in Georgia GOP

Collins’ bid for Senate opens up another Georgia House seat 

Raphael Warnock, pastor of famed church, enters Georgia Senate race

With two Georgia Republicans racing for the Senate, eyes turn to Trump

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