Gary Black sends Herschel Walker a message with Senate rally

Commerce, Ga. – Herschel Walker might now be the heavyweight in the Republican race for U.S. Senate in Georgia. But Gary Black intends to prove the state’s most important GOP stronghold is solidly in his corner.

In a show of force on Tuesday, hundreds of supporters gathered at Black’s farm in northeast Georgia to hear from a string of well-known Republicans who endorsed the agricultural commissioner’s campaign to challenge Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year.

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins touted Black’s integrity and Georgia roots. His successor in Congress, U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, dialed in from Washington to pledge his support.

And others from Black’s neck of the woods added their voices to his campaign, including former Gov. Nathan Deal and Public Service Commissioner Bubba McDonald, whose baritone rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.” helped ring in the event.

“I bleed Georgia football red,” said McDonald, “but I’m for Black all the way.”

It was a coordinated effort to prove to grassroots Republicans that Black will be a formidable force in next year’s contest, even if he’s not the flashiest name in the GOP primary. That honor goes to Walker, the former Georgia football star who entered the race last week with much fanfare.

The two are among a quartet of Republicans competing to face Warnock, who is seeking a full six-year term after defeating incumbent Kelly Loeffler in January. Construction executive Kelvin King and former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler both say they aren’t budging from the race as well.

Veteran Republicans know not to underestimate the political clout of this part of the state, responsible for a huge trove of GOP votes. Deal eked out a GOP runoff win in the 2010 race for governor thanks to exceptional turnout in his native Hall County. Brian Kemp relied on an explosion of support from the region to defeat Stacey Abrams in 2018.

The event, in the shadows of Black’s sprawling barn, opened with an impassioned speech by Collins, who decided against another run for U.S. Senate after a third-place finish in last year’s special election. Collins’ unequivocal endorsement surprised many attendees, in part because it was a rare break from Donald Trump, who urged Walker to jump in the race.

“We need people who have the integrity Gary Black has,” said Collins, who now hosts a radio show in Gainesville. “I don’t care who else is running — I’m supporting Gary Black.”

Deal, who earlier became the highest-profile Republican to pick sides in the race, praised the three-term commissioner’s stewardship of the agriculture department. Calling Black “one of us,” he emphasized Black’s connection to Georgia farmers and his pledge to energize the party’s base.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen takes a selfie with then-Gov. Nathan Deal and first lady Sandra Deal at Whitefoord Elementary School. BEN GRAY/AJC FILE PHOTO

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“Can any of you logically explain to me, or anybody else, why the state of Georgia, which in my opinion is still a red state, has two Democrats in the U.S. Senate? One of the reasons is we got outworked. We took things for granted. This is the wakeup time when you cannot take anything for granted.”

Taking the makeshift stage, Black joked that he entered the race after taking out his anger on TV coverage of President Joe Biden’s “dramatic left turn.”

“I’ve had folks ask me time and time again, ‘You’re leaving something that is so safe. Why are you leaving a safe position? This is one we didn’t have to worry about,” he said. “But I will not stand in safety when our country is in jeopardy.”

He never once mentioned Walker or the other GOP rivals in his lengthy speech, but pilloried Warnock for being a “zero” factor in the U.S. Senate during the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.

“It’s the fundamental responsibility of this country and this government to keep our people safe. And we’re in jeopardy now. It’s time someone stands in that gap,” he said. “This crowd is going to speak, and next November we’ll have a new U.S. senator that speaks for all of Georgia.”