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Georgia U.S. Senate hopeful Raphael Warnock visits his childhood home in Savannah before campaign rally
U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock stands in the middle of a prayer circle in front of his childhood home at Savannah's Kayton Homes housing project on Dec. 12. - photo by Nick Robertson
Rev. Raphael Warnock made a pilgrimage to the place where he grew up − Savannah’s Kayton Homes housing project – before carrying on his U.S. Senate campaign with a high-spirited rally at the city’s longshoreman’s union hall on Saturday morning.

Warnock began his day on the campaign trail at around 10:30 a.m. by gathering with local leaders and old friends on the grassy lawn in front of the public-housing project on Gwinnett Street, where he was raised with 11 siblings. Now the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Warnock is the Democratic challenger to Georgia’s Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler in one of the Peach State’s two nationally prominent Jan. 5, 2021 senate-runoff races, which will determine the balance of power in Washington, D.C. for the next two years.

After greeting his friends and local leaders, including Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and Chatham County Commissioner James “Jay” Jones, Warnock asked the gathered supporters to form a socially distanced prayer circle on the lawn where he played as an underprivileged child. Following an invocation, the group sang “We Shall Overcome” before posing for group pictures.

“Thank you so much. I appreciate this so much,” Warnock said to the intimate crowd.

After Warnock’s campaign bus nearly backed into the car of one of his supporters (“Testing your faith,” Warnock quipped to laughter from the car’s owner), the candidate and his entourage proceeded to the International Longshoreman’s Local 1414 union hall, where some 200 diverse supporters were gathered for a drive-up rally.

Mayor Johnson introduced Warnock to the energetic crowd, encouraging them to help boost turnout and vote early in the Jan. 5 election.

“We need you to be out and be disciples. We need you to be out and encourage people to vote. Vote early, don’t wait until January the 5th, get it done now,” Johnson said, adding that this is a rare opportunity to help send a Savannah native to the U.S. Senate. “I want somebody who knows me. I want somebody who knows Savannah.”

Approaching the podium with a spring in his step, Warnock arrived at the mic to the upbeat cacophony of cheering supporters and honking car horns as Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” blasted on the speaker system. Along with sharing a few lines from his stump speech and characterizing his opponent as out of touch with the struggles of everyday Georgians, Warnock spoke nostalgically of his childhood in Savannah.

“I was born here at the Telfair Hospital. Telling my age – the Millennials won’t even know what that is,” Warnock said of Savannah’s erstwhile healthcare facility. “The kid who grew up in public housing is now well positioned to be the next U.S. Senator from the great state of Georgia.”

Warnock dismissed his opponent’s campaign ads attacking his character as borne out of Republican desperation amid a deeply polarized nation.

“We’ve gotta push hard against the forces of bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism, and xenophobia in our country,” Warnock said, citing President-elect Joe Biden’s general-election victory in Georgia as a harbinger of a new momentum toward inclusive governance. “I’m ready for this moment and I’m ready for this movement, and I believe that Georgia is ready. I believe that America is ready.”

Following his speech, Warnock responded to a reporter’s inquiry about how it felt to be back in Savannah amid the national focus on his campaign.

“Today is a homecoming,” Warnock replied, adding that returning to Savannah made him thankful for his roots. “When you grow up in a city, you don’t always appreciate how beautiful it is. … This was a wonderful place to grow up.”

A Warnock campaign aide said that the candidate would likely return to his hometown for another campaign visit before the Jan. 5 election.