Who is challenging Raphael Warnock in 2022?

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is a formidable candidate with strong name recognition and a hefty fundraising list after his victory in January made him the first Black U.S. senator in Georgia history. But a number of Republicans are running against him, and others are considering whether to join the race.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is a formidable candidate with strong name recognition and a hefty fundraising list after his victory in January made him the first Black U.S. senator in Georgia history. But a number of Republicans are running against him, and others are considering whether to join the race.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock was one half of a shocking Democratic sweep during Georgia’s epic Jan. 5 runoffs. Now he’s preparing for a brutal reelection campaign for a full six-year term.

While fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff won’t face the voters again until 2026, Warnock must run again next year to keep his seat in the U.S. Senate. That’s because his victory over GOP incumbent Kelly Loeffler was to fill the remainder of retired Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term.

Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, will be a formidable candidate. He’s got sky-high name recognition, the power of incumbency, a robust political network and a hefty fundraising list after his victory made him the first Black U.S. senator in Georgia history.

Two military veterans — Kelvin King and Latham Saddler — quickly entered the race. Soon after, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black joined the contest. And former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker is considering a bid.

Meanwhile, many other GOP contenders are ducking a race, including former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins and Attorney General Chris Carr.

Warnock doesn’t mince words: “I am prepared to defeat whatever Republican they come up with.”

Who is running:

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black

Gary Black has served three terms as Georgia's agriculture commissioner, and he's made strong connections to voters in the state's rural areas. He's not as well known in vote-rich areas such as metro Atlanta. David Tulis / AJC Special

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The popular agriculture commissioner has built a base of support in rural Georgia over three terms in office — and 40 years in the farm business — that would come in handy during a Republican primary.

He’s championed a “Georgia Grown” initiative since he took office in 2011 and has backed conservative causes in the Legislature and on the campaign trail. But he has far lower visibility in vote-rich areas such as metro Atlanta.

Black was one of the first GOP officials to endorse Doug Collins’ U.S. Senate bid last year, and once the former congressman decided against a 2022 run, he was seen as increasingly likely to launch a challenge.

Kelvin King

Kelvin King is the owner of a metro Atlanta construction company and one of Donald Trump's strongest Black supporters in Georgia. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

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Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

The owner of a metro Atlanta construction company, King has become a major figure in state Republican politics and is one of former President Donald Trump’s most prominent Black supporters in Georgia.

His wife, Janelle King, is also a well-known conservative activist who recently joined the weekly ”Georgia Gang” show. Together, the two run Speak Georgia, a political outreach group.

An Air Force veteran, King announced his campaign in April with a plan to tap into David Perdue’s “outsider” mold as a business executive.

Latham Saddler

Latham Saddler, a former Navy SEAL and onetime student body president at the University of Georgia, has surprised some observers with his success in fundraising and building a grassroots network.

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Hardly known in Georgia political circles, Saddler is a former Navy SEAL who also served as a White House fellow. He’s now an executive at the Synovus banking firm.

The onetime University of Georgia student body president announced his bid in April for the office, and he outlined a campaign that would focus on his military background and his outsider appeal among a field of higher-profile Republicans.

He’s surprised many political observers with his strong early fundraising and grassroots operation, which helped him draw sizable crowds during his first statewide tour.

Who is considering a run:

Herschel Walker

Name recognition and the support of former President Donald Trump would make Herschel Walker the instant front-runner in the GOP primary if the former University of Georgia football star chooses to enter the U.S. Senate race. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Georgia Republicans have been buzzing with the rumor that the UGA football legend — and friend of Trump’s — could challenge Warnock next year. And the former president has chimed in, urging Walker to join the fray.

Walker emerged as a voice for far-right conservative causes during Trump’s term in the White House and spoke in support of the president at last year’s Republican National Convention.

He also has a history of violent and erratic behavior, some of which he outlined in a 2008 book that detailed his long struggle with mental illness. Subsequent reports exposed questionable business dealings, threats he leveled against his ex-wife and other issues that could factor into a campaign.

Polls show him as the front-runner in the GOP race, thanks in part to his soaring name recognition. He would be helped by Trump’s boast that Walker would be “unstoppable” in a campaign.

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler

After losing her U.S. Senate seat to Raphael Warnock in the Jan. 5 runoff, Kelly Loeffler created Greater Georgia to energize conservatives, build a new grassroots infrastructure and promote GOP election proposals.

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The former financial executive was tapped by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill Isakson’s seat in hopes of winning back women and more moderate voters who were disgusted by Trump.

Instead, Loeffler’s short stint in the Senate turned into a race to the party’s right, as she dueled with Collins for the hearts of conservatives and pumped more than $31 million of her own money into her campaign.

Defeated by Warnock, she spent the next few weeks quietly devising a new project, called Greater Georgia, to energize conservatives, build a new grassroots infrastructure and promote GOP elections proposals that critics say are overly restrictive.

She’s said she’s weighing a comeback bid but that “I don’t know if any Republican can win if we don’t shore up what we’re doing around voter registration, engagement and election integrity.”

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, is seriously exploring a run for the U.S. Senate but has also said he would not launch a campaign if Herschel Walker enters the race.

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A former mayor of the Savannah suburb of Pooler, Carter served in the state Legislature before he was elected to represent a coastal district in 2014, making him the only pharmacist in Congress at the time.

People close to him say he’s seriously exploring a challenge and developing a campaign team, and that he’s also notified Trump and top state Republicans that he’s considering a bid. But he’s also said he would only run if Walker does not.

Who is not running for the seat:

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan

Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has clashed with Donald Trump, disputing the former president's false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. He is not seeking reelection and has also shunned a bid for the U.S. Senate. Instead, he's focused on a project he calls "GOP 2.0" that would seek a return of the Republican Party to big-tent conservatism and away from Trump's influence. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Once a back-bencher in the Georgia House, the former professional baseball player won a surprising runoff victory in the 2018 GOP primary over David Shafer and then raced to a general election win.

In Georgia’s No. 2 job, he’s allied himself tightly to Kemp and was one of the most prominent early supporters of Loeffler even as he butted heads with fellow Republicans in the fractious Georgia Senate he presides over.

He earned national attention — and Trump’s fury — during the runoffs as he appeared frequently on cable news to counter false claims of widespread voter fraud and urge Republicans to stand up to Trump’s attempts to overturn the election.

Now, he often talks of a “GOP 2.0” that tilts further away from Trump and toward big-tent conservativism. He said in March that he wouldn’t run for the U.S. Senate. He also is not running for another term as lieutenant governor.

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins showed interest early this year in running for the U.S. Senate or possibly challenging Gov. Brian Kemp. But in April, he announced that he would not seek office in the next election. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A four-term Republican congressman from the conservative bastion of Gainesville, Collins aggressively pitched himself for the open U.S. Senate seat following Isakson’s resignation — and was spurned by Kemp despite Trump’s initial support.

He and his allies pilloried Loeffler as a squishy moderate long before he entered the 2020 Senate race, and the two exchanged vicious barbs throughout the campaign.

After a third-place finish, Collins campaigned for Loeffler in the runoffs and also led Trump’s recount efforts in Georgia, appearing at a “Stop the Steal” rally days after the election.

In early 2021, he said he was considering a run for the Senate or mounting a primary challenge to Kemp, an idea endorsed by Trump at his runoff rally in Georgia. But in April, Collins ruled out a 2022 run, saying he’d focus on other efforts to help Republicans win in Georgia.

Attorney General Chris Carr

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a former top aide to then-U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, considered running for the same Senate seat. But he opted, instead, to seek reelection as attorney general. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

A former economic development commissioner, Carr was appointed attorney general by Gov. Nathan Deal. He then defeated Democrat Charlie Bailey in a nail-biter to win a full four-year term.

Carr was a former top aide to Isakson and has tried to embrace his mantra as a mainstream conservative and consensus builder. But Carr’s defense of Georgia’s election law has also given him newfound national attention and a pro-Trump talking point.

He would have relied on the same political network that he helped Isakson build over decades in public office. But in late April, his aides said he was gearing up for a tough reelection campaign as attorney general instead.

Former Chief Justice Harold Melton

Supporters started floating Harold Melton’s name as a contender for the U.S. Senate after he stepped down as chief justice of the state Supreme Court. They saw him as a formidable candidate who could help expand the GOP’s base, but he ruled out a run, choosing instead to work in the private sector. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)

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Almost as soon as Melton announced he would step down from the state Supreme Court, texts ping-ponged across the Statehouse speculating whether the longtime judge was leaving his seat on the bench for a bid for the U.S. Senate.

Though Melton made clear in interviews he was eager to help put his three kids through college — code for joining the private sector — he briefly considered applying for the open Senate seat in 2019.

A former lawyer for the state attorney general’s office, Melton was serving as Gov. Sonny Perdue’s executive counsel when the Republican picked him in 2005 for an open seat on the state’s highest court.

Though supporters have floated Melton’s name, seeing him as a formidable candidate who can help expand the GOP’s base, he’s ruled out a run. A close ally said he’s had no serious conversations about campaigning for the seat.

State Sen. Burt Jones

State Sen. Burt Jones has wealth and close ties to former President Donald Trump. But Jones chose to skip the U.S. Senate race, opting instead to run for lieutenant governor. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

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The veteran Middle Georgia lawmaker and former UGA football captain is heir to Jones Petroleum Co., giving him the ability to leverage plenty of personal wealth and deep conservative roots in a run for higher office.

He’s also closely aligned with Trump, earning applause from the former president in 2020 when he led a group of GOP state senators urging Kemp to call a special legislative session to overturn the election results.

Jones has flirted with runs for statewide office before, including a potential bid for lieutenant governor in 2018. This time around, he announced a campaign for Georgia’s No. 2 job to succeed Duncan.