Where Walker and Warnock stand on culture war issues

The culture wars are alive and well in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race.

Attend any rally for Republican Herschel Walker and it’s almost certain you will hear him assail transgender athletes, abortion, the changing use of gender pronouns and the threat of critical race theory in schools.

His opponent, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, has built his campaign around inclusivity. The Democrat has defended gay and transgender rights and denounced what he has described as Walker’s attempts to demonize some communities.

In a year in which economic concerns are top of mind for most voters, Walker has injected the divisive social issues into the race with hopes of energizing the GOP base, particularly evangelical Christians. Whether they turn out again for Tuesday’s runoff could be critical to Walker’s success.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock

Warnock has long been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights, marching in Atlanta’s gay pride parade and tweeting his support for the community. He was not in Washington this week to vote for a bill to protect gay and interracial marriage because of the runoff. But he backed the measure in a procedural tally and only skipped the main vote after it was clear the bill would pass with GOP support.

He has also spoken out in support of transgender people.

“As a pastor, I deeply believe in the sacred worth of all human beings, which is why I’ll always fight to protect the dignity and worth of our trans loved ones,” he wrote in a March tweet.

Credit: Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

When it comes to the contentious issue of transgender athletes, Warnock voted in 2021 against an amendment that would have prohibited federal funding from going to educational institutions that allow biological males to compete in women’s sports.

The teaching of critical race theory — or CRT — has become a political flashpoint in recent years. CRT is a college-level concept based on the idea that racism is a social construct embedded in all aspects of our lives, including in legal systems and policies. Supporters say it is needed to explain how racism has shaped public institutions and discourse. But critics counter that it suggests white people are to blame for racism in the United States. In an effort to deal with the issue, the Georgia Legislature earlier this year adopted a measure banning the teaching of so-called divisive concepts in K-12 public schools.

Warnock hasn’t said much about critical race theory in particular but has stressed, more generally, that the nation needs to deal with the legacy of racism.

Warnock said he supports abortion rights and calls himself a “pro-choice pastor.”

Republican nominee Herschel Walker

At Walker’s rallies, some of the biggest applause comes when he raises culture war issues.

“They want to tell you this is the new normal. This is not the new normal,” Walker has said.

He made trans athletes a centerpiece of his campaign, appearing multiple times with Riley Gaines, a 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer who has spoken out against biological males participating in women’s sports. Gaines became politically active competing against Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete from the University of Pennsylvania.

“A man won a swimming title that belonged to a woman,” she said in an ad for Walker.

“That’s unfair and wrong,” Walker said in the spot.

Walker has framed his opposition to transgender athletes as support for women’s sports.

“You don’t want me competing against your daughter,” the former Heisman Trophy winner regularly told crowds on the campaign trail.

Walker has typically confined his remarks to transgender athletes, where polls show support is high for limiting their participation. But he has occasionally gone even further.

“When I get to heaven, I want the Lord to recognize me,” he said at a rally in Calhoun on Sept. 27, “because I can tell you right now, they’re telling the young kids in school, you can be a boy tomorrow even if you’re a girl.

“But I want the young kids to know, you go to heaven, Jesus may not recognize you. Because he made you a boy. He made you a girl.”

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Walker has also criticized the shifting use of pronouns among people who identify as transgender and nonbinary.

“I’m like, pronoun, what the heck is a pronoun? My pronoun is sick and tired,” he said at his first rally of the runoff in Canton.

And he has not said whether he would have sided with 12 Senate Republicans to help pass the bill protecting gay and interracial marriage (Walker is in an interracial marriage).

Walker opposes abortion rights. After originally stating that he supported a ban on abortion with no exceptions, he has more recently backed both a Georgia law that prohibits most abortions after six weeks and a proposal that would outlaw them nationwide after 15 weeks.