Georgia elected its first Black senator this week when Rev. Raphael Warnock defeated Kelly Loeffler in a special Georgia Senate runoff election. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)
Georgia elected its first Black senator this week when Rev. Raphael Warnock defeated Kelly Loeffler in a special Georgia Senate runoff election. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

Despite facing a barrage of ugly smears funded by conservative outside groups and wealthy Republican donors, Rev. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler while running on an unabashedly progressive platform.

For 15 years, Rev. Raphael Warnock has preached progressive causes from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once evangelized. Warnock defended a woman’s right to abortion, railed against mass incarceration, and was once arrested for protesting the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

In a few short weeks, the 51-year-old will continue those fights as a member of the United States Senate. On Tuesday evening, Warnock was elected to the legislative chamber, defeating incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler and becoming Georgia’s first Black senator and just the 11th Black senator in American history. 

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Warnock’s victory—alongside fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff’s win against David Perdue—gives their party control of the Senate, House of Representatives, and presidency for the first time in a decade. It also represents a remarkable victory for Black activists and Democrats in the South, while simultaneously delivering a rebuke to the virulent, race-baiting campaign run by Loeffler.

She repeatedly darkened images of Warnock, and as MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan noted, smeared the pastor as a “socialist,” a “Marxist radical,” accused him of being anti-American and anti-Israel, and falsely accused him of child abuse and domestic abuse. Loeffler’s efforts also got a boost from President Donald Trump, who called Warnock “the most radical and dangerous left-wing candidate ever to seek this office,” during a Monday speech in Dalton, Georgia. 

The fear-mongering didn’t work. Despite facing a barrage of ugly attacks funded by conservative outside groups and wealthy Republican donors, Warnock defeated Loeffler—who conceded on Thursday—while running on an unabashedly progressive platform. That he did so in a state that last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 2000, and previously went 28 years without voting for a Democrat for president, makes it all the more impressive. 

RELATED: Warnock and Ossoff Win Georgia Senate Races, Securing Majority for Democrats

It also underscores a growing reality: progressive ideas are popular. 

During his campaign, Warnock:

  • demanded $2,000 relief checks to help Americans weather the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, a position that has support from 78% of Americans, according to recent polling from Data for Progress.
  • frequently spoke about the need for expanding Medicaid so more people have access to affordable health care, which 75% of Americans have either a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of,a 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll found.
  • described himself as a “pro-choice pastor,” defended access to women’s reproductive health care, and said he would support judges who would uphold Roe v. Wade. A 2020 KFF poll found that nearly six in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 69% say that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.
  • supported decriminalizing marijuana and reforming the criminal justice system to end mass incarceration, both of which have widespread public support. More than two in three Americans support not just decriminalizing, but legalizing marijuana, according to a November poll from Gallup. Meanwhile, a June AP-NORC poll found that 69% support a “complete overhaul” or “major changes” to the nation’s criminal justice system.
  • focused on the need to address the climate crisis. Sixty-five percent of Americans want the government to do more to reduce the effects of climate change, according to a June survey from the Pew Research Center.
  • supported increasing the minimum wage to ensure it’s a living wage, a position that has massive public support. Two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, a 2019 Pew survey found.
  • expressed support for student loan forgiveness. According to a December poll from Vox and Data for Progress, 51% of likely voters would support President-elect Joe Biden canceling up to $50,000 of student debt for those earning less than $125,000 per year.

On Wednesday, Warnock told CNN his first priorities as a senator would be pushing for $2,000 coronavirus relief checks and improving distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. While Loeffler and her allies might believe these ideas and others Warnock supports to be “radical,” the American public clearly disagrees. 

So, too, did Georgia voters.

READ MORE: Progressives Notched Big Wins at the State Level in 2020. Here Are a Few.