Republican Gary Black enters Senate race against Raphael Warnock

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, right, talks with Pete Chagnon of New Life FM radio at the Georgia Grown Farmers Showcase which features agricultural products from all corners of Georgia coming together under one shed for one day on Saturday, July 27, 2013, at the Atlanta State Farmers Market. David Tulis / AJC Special
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, right, talks with Pete Chagnon of New Life FM radio at the Georgia Grown Farmers Showcase which features agricultural products from all corners of Georgia coming together under one shed for one day on Saturday, July 27, 2013, at the Atlanta State Farmers Market. David Tulis / AJC Special

The ag commissioner is highest-profile Georgia GOP contender in contest

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black entered the race against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock on Friday, becoming the most prominent Republican to join the field competing to retake a seat long in GOP hands.

Black told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he planned to leverage his support for former President Donald Trump, his high name recognition from more than a decade in statewide office, and his background in agriculture, the state’s top industry, to emerge from what will be a crowded primary.

“I’ve got the leadership experience, the track record, and the background handling a wide range of duties to be a United States senator,” Black said. “The people of Georgia have been kind enough to hire me before, and I believe they’ll hire me again for a different job.”

He’s the biggest name yet to join a slow-to-develop race. Many of the premier figures in Georgia’s GOP – including Black’s close friend Doug Collins – have passed on a bid. Others are waiting for former UGA football great Herschel Walker to decide, mindful that Trump encouraged him to run.

Black said in an interview he plans to mount a campaign regardless of who else joins the field – even if Walker enters the contest with Trump’s blessing.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is an early arrival watching election coverage at the Republican Watch party at the Grand Hyatt, Buckhead, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is an early arrival watching election coverage at the Republican Watch party at the Grand Hyatt, Buckhead, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

“Would I love to have Trump’s support? Absolutely. You’re going to find me saluting all the good things he’s done the past four years. Those accomplishments are Republican accomplishments,” said Black. “But I’m running no matter what. Absolutely. I’m in this race to win the primary and the general election.”

The race could soon draw more candidates. Two military veterans — Kelvin King and Latham Saddler — have already announced bids. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter has said he’ll run if Walker does not. Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and House Speaker David Ralston are among other GOP leaders kicking the tires.

Awaiting the GOP nominee is a tough matchup against Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in January to become the first Black senator in Georgia history. Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has unified Democratic support behind him and has already built a hefty campaign war chest.

‘Fundamental disagreements’

Black enters with his own strengths. He has painstakingly built a base of support in rural Georgia over three terms in office — and 40 years in the farm business — that will come in handy during a contested Republican primary.

He breezed to victories during his three election campaigns, and in 2020 was one of Collins’ top surrogates on the campaign trail.

After Hurricane Michael ravaged South Georgia, he was one of the leading advocates for federal relief. Though he has lower visibility in vote-rich metro Atlanta, he might be best known for championing the “Georgia Grown” farm-to-table initiative.

Black formally rolled out his campaign at the state GOP convention in Jekyll Island.

“I doubt any of us will forget where we were on January (5), 2021,” Black said. “That evening a political wave crashed on the shores of Georgia. That wave is eroding our constitutional rights. ... We must say to this liberal wave: this far you may come and no more.”

OCTOBER 12, 2014-ATLANTA: Chris Irvin (D-left) & Chris Irvin (D) spare during an Atlanta Press Club debate for the State Agriculture Commissioner at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studios in Atlanta on Sunday October 12th, 2014. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
OCTOBER 12, 2014-ATLANTA: Chris Irvin (D-left) & Chris Irvin (D) spare during an Atlanta Press Club debate for the State Agriculture Commissioner at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studios in Atlanta on Sunday October 12th, 2014. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

His decision will leave vacant one of Georgia’s top statewide posts. Among the likely contenders is state Sen. Tyler Harper, an Ocilla farmer who is close with Black. Will Bentley, a cattle farmer and president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, is another potential candidate. Democrat Nakita Hemingway, who lost a suburban Gwinnett County legislative race last year, is also in the running.

In the interview, Black said he will emphasize his background to draw a contrast with Warnock, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“I just fundamentally object to the positions of this administration and Sen. Warnock. I don’t know the reverend and I never met him,” Black said. “But we have fundamental disagreements and I want to provide a positive choice for Georgians.”

He also outlined conservative stances on many of Georgia’s most divisive debates, including the election rewrite signed by Gov. Brian Kemp that includes new ID requirements for absentee ballots, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes and gives the Republican-controlled Legislature more power over voting rules.

May 4, 2021 Byromville - Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock speaks to supporters at JibbÕs Vineyard in Byromville on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
May 4, 2021 Byromville - Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock speaks to supporters at JibbÕs Vineyard in Byromville on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“Whatever you think about elections, one thing I know is that the election that cannot be stolen is one where we all show up. This is a red state, and I believe our ideas are better. And I believe our citizens believe that. And when we all show up, it’s a Republican win.”

Excerpts from Black’s interview:

On how he’ll appeal to metro Atlanta voters:

“During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been on the tip of the spear working with (DeKalb CEO) Mike Thurmond to help with food boxes … We’ve helped make lives better, not just for farmers but for all of our citizens. We’ve accomplished so much with school nutrition. And we’ll remind voters that agriculture touches every part of our lives.”

On his stance on the $1.7 trillion infrastructure bill:

“Do we need to have progress in investment in our infrastructure? Absolutely. It’s important for Savannah’s port, for our transportation system, for our economy. But I think we need to be far more strategic and methodical. I look forward to evaluating it more. Should there always be infrastructure investment? Absolutely. But I think there’s a lot of bloat in this.”

On his strategy to defeat Warnock:

“I believe our team is better and we win. I’ve promised our team we will build a grassroots infrastructure that’s historic in its nature … We’re going to do creative things in the grassroots level to inspire. Some will revolve around agriculture, our largest industry. Others will look more broadly.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler (right) shares a laugh with Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black (left) while kicking off his Georgia swing at Southern Belle Farm on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in McDonough.  Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler (right) shares a laugh with Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black (left) while kicking off his Georgia swing at Southern Belle Farm on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in McDonough. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

On whether Joe Biden won the election:

“I’ll tell you what, he was sworn in. There have been questions here in Georgia. I can’t speak to any other state, but what happened in Georgia was a mess. We’ve taken steps to correct that, and I’m going to fight to make sure we have trust in the system.”

On his stance on Georgia’s election law rewrite:

“Georgians have acted responsibly. The Legislature had a good debate and we passed good legislation. I’m glad we’ve taken steps to make things more secure and fair. A few years ago, our Democratic friends had objections involving confidence in the system, and now we’re seeing that on the Republican side. It’s been a mess and we’ve taken steps to clean that up.”

On whether Democrats should eliminate the filibuster in the Senate:

“It’s a travesty that this discussion is going on. It’s what we all warned people about during the presidential campaign. It’s an encroachment on the democratic republic. I hope the Senate will hold. The Senate is meant to be a deliberative body, and I’m absolutely opposed to the changes in the filibuster.”

About the Author

ajc.com

In Other News