State GOP official jumps into Georgia Senate race against Warnock

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Georgia Republican Gary Black, the state’s commissioner of agriculture, is launching a Senate bid Friday, becoming the highest-profile GOP candidate so far in the primary to face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in one of next year's key battleground races.

Black, who is in his third term, is set to announce his bid at the GOP state party convention Friday and become the third Republican in the primary field. His campaign launch comes after several other high-profile Georgia Republicans have passed on running, with the field staying mostly frozen for months as the GOP waits on a decision from former NFL and University of Georgia football player Herschel Walker.

Georgia is critical for Republicans' drive to win back the majority from Democrats, who won control of the 50-50 Senate after Warnock and fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff flipped the state’s two seats in January. Black, who first won his post in 2010 and won two reelections easily in 2014 and 2018, is leaning on that history for his bid.

“Experience absolutely matters. I've been blessed to be elected three times,” Black said in an interview, touting his network around the state.

“We've been able to carry the day for Republicans in the previous elections, and I expect to do so again in 2022,” he added.

It could be a crowded fight for the nomination to take on Warnock. Two Republicans, Kelvin King and Latham Saddler, both military veterans, are already running. Former President Donald Trump has encouraged Walker to enter the race, though Walker has not taken any public steps toward a campaign. And former GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Warnock in January, is contemplating another run and met with Trump recently, tweeting out a photo of the two of them on Friday.

GOP Rep. Buddy Carter has also encouraged Walker to run for Senate, but Carter has said he will run if the former running back doesn’t.

Former GOP Sen. David Perdue and former Rep. Doug Collins, both of whom lost Senate races in the state last cycle, have passed on 2022 campaigns.

Black said in the interview he expected a “vigorous contest” in the primary, but that Walker’s decision would matter “not one bit” for his own campaign. Black is working with several experienced operatives: His general consultant is Scott Rials, who was a top aide for former Gov. Sonny Perdue and Newt Gingrich. Dan McLagan, who was a spokesperson for Collins’ campaign, will be in a similar role. Maggie Bohannon will lead his fundraising, Brandon Howell will lead digital operations, and veteran operatives Ron Butler and Jason Mashburn will do direct mail.

Asked how he’d contrast with Warnock and Democrats, Black criticized President Joe Biden’s policies on taxes and border security, and he criticized Biden and Warnock over rising gas prices.

“We start and end at different places,” Black said. “From a standpoint of what's coming out of the administration so far, there's been pretty much universal support by the Democrat side.”

Georgia should be one of Republicans' best pickup opportunities if the midterm political environment is in their favor. But it’s also a state where the party remains divided over the 2020 election, and Trump continues to push for primary challenges to Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Black, who was not on the ballot in 2020, said the state’s voting in 2020 was a “mess” and blamed Raffensperger. He did not directly answer when asked if he believed the 2020 election was legitimate, but he praised the changes to state election law recently passed by the Legislature and signed by Kemp over furious opposition from Democrats.

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