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Raphael Warnock vs. Herschel Walker, not to mention Donald Trump and Joe Biden

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Raphael Warnock on Nov. 15, 2020, in Marietta, Georgia.

His low seniority belies his high impact.

Raphael Warnock is literally 100th in seniority in the 100-member Senate, elected on the same day as his Georgia colleague, Jon Ossoff, but ranked below him courtesy of the shorter term he is filling. But his victory was crucial in delivering control of the Senate to Democrats last year.

Now his reelection race in November looms large, a battle royale that will test the power of presidents and might determine if Republicans can take the Senate back.

No surprise, perhaps, that as the campaign heats up, his memoir of a lifetime of faith and activism is coming out, published Tuesday by Penguin Press, titled “A Way Out Of No Way.” That phrase, familiar in many historically Black churches, is testimony to the value of pressing on, of keeping at it, even when there’s no guarantee or even much hope of succeeding.

Who is Raphael Warnock?: What to know about Georgia’s first Black senator running for reelection

Consider the announcement Sunday that a bipartisan group of senators had managed to reach a deal on legislation to curtail gun violence, the sort of legislation that hasd proved impossible to enact in the outrage following one mass shooting after another. The latest spate of violence, including the massacre last month of fourth-graders in Uvalde, Texas, may have been a tipping point.

“You never know when that moment will come,” Warnock told USA TODAY in an interview about his book, a conversation that happened to take place a few hours after the announcement. “Folks were hoping and pushing for civil rights change for decades, for decades,” he said. For a long time, “those victories were quite improbable, but people kept working at it.”

Now he is working at winning a full, six-year term to the Senate in a race that is rated a toss-up by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and expected to be the most expensive in the country this year. It has also become a battle of the presidents.

Former President Donald Trump recruited Herschel Walker, a University of Georgia football legend, to challenge Warnock. And President Joe Biden threatens to be a drag on Warnock’s political prospects as his approval ratings sag and inflation rises.

“There’s no question that these are tough times,” Warnock said. “We’re in the midst of a pandemic that has dragged on for two years, that has as a result created an economic downturn unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime.”

The real issue, he said, “is who’s thinking about ordinary people in the midst of all those challenges.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock’s memoir is out on June 14.

Warnock on Hershel Walker, Joe Biden

He didn’t respond directly when asked if Walker’s struggles with mental illness and the allegations of domestic violence against him should be on the table during the campaign.

“Oh, I think the people of Georgia have to decide on who they think is ready to represent them in the United States Senate,” he said.

Does he want Biden to campaign for him in Georgia, as he did the day before the 2021 runoff election?

“I’m not focused on who I’ll be campaigning with,” he said, not an answer to the question. “I’m trying to remember who I’m campaigning for.”

He noted his work to cap the cost of insulin for diabetes, his work to protect voting rights, and his efforts to get relief from student loans – lobbying for executive action that the Biden White House has resisted so far. “I’m certainly going to keep pushing,” he said.

Trump and Georgia: Trump called Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp a ‘turncoat’ and fought to defeat him. Here’s why he won anyway.

Warnock, 52, has a pastor’s presence and ease with language. He is the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta, the historic home church of Martin Luther King Jr. On most Sunday mornings, he returns to the pulpit to preach, and his years as a minister have served him well in politics, he said.

“If you’ve ever had to get the folks who like anthems and hymns to reconcile with the people who like contemporary gospel music,” he said, “that gets you ready.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Raphael Warnock on life’s battles, a Senate race vs. Herschel Walker