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Political Reporter’s Notebook: Warnock and Walker’s Very Different Juneteeth messages

Plus, Abrams reveals a plan to fund the police ahead of her November showdown with Kemp.

Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock told supporters in East Point on Saturday that “freedom is an ongoing struggle” and urged them to continue to vote. (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B)

U.S. Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker delivered very different Juneteenth messages to predominantly Black crowds in East Point and College Park over the extended holiday weekend.

A trio of Stacey Abrams-endorsed Democratic runoff contenders won their races — some unexpectedly — further illustrating the political might the gubernatorial candidate wields among Democrats throughout the state.

On Thursday, Abrams revealed her plan to increase police funding in Georgia to address rising crime.

On a related note, Atlanta City Council approved the largest budget in the city’s history on Wednesday. (That budget includes more funding for police and public safety.)

Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know.

Warnock and Walker: A tale of two Juneteenth celebrations

The Democratic U.S. Senate incumbent and his football legend GOP challenger delivered competing campaign messages to mostly Black audiences during separate Juneteenth events over the extended holiday weekend.

Warnock participated in a Juneteenth parade and festival in East Point on Saturday where he reminded the estimated 150 people in attendance of the historic victory a diverse group of Georgia voters helped Democrats deliver in 2020.

That was the year Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff became the first two Democrats in 20 years to win U.S. Senate races in the state. Warnock also became the first Black senator ever to represent Georgia on Capitol Hill.

Warnock eventually took the stage and tried to reassure those in attendance who may think Democrats haven’t fully delivered on their 2020 campaign promises.

He pointed to the history of Juneteenth — specifically the more than two year gap between when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and the June 19, 1865, moment enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, were finally informed of their freedom — to remind audience goers that “freedom is an ongoing struggle,” and encouraged them to continue voting in large numbers in the fall.

“What this reminds us of is that the process of democracy is just that, it’s a process,” Warnock said. “Coretta Scott King said that freedom is not a once-and-for-all deal, that it is fought and won by every generation. It is work that we have to continually do.”

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Herschel Walker met with supporters Monday in College Park, where he said, “We’ve elected people to office that keep wanting to take us back.” (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B)

On Monday, Walker joined an estimated 100 Juneteenth event attendees outside the Republican Party’s Black American Community Center in College Park, where he used the history of Juneteenth to highlight how much progress Black people have made over the last 157 years.

“We’ve come so far … but we’ve elected people to office that keep wanting to take us back,” Walker said. “And all we’re doing is complaining about the past.”

The address was Walker’s latest attempt to appeal to Black voters. Most recent polls have Walker and Warnock tied ahead of their November matchup. But only 7% of Black voters polled supported Walker over Warnock in an East Carolina University poll conducted in June.

That’s less than the 11% who supported Donald Trump in 2020. Walker dismissed the polling data after his speech Monday.

“First of all, I think you’re not telling the truth because I wouldn’t be tied with [Warnock] if I didn’t have the Black support,” Walker said. “I have a lot of Black support. Remember, I’m Black. My family is Black. I’ve got a lot of Black family in Georgia. … What I’m going to do is continue to get out to meet the people, continue to do [events] like this right here and show that these [Democratic] policies don’t work for a lot of Black and brown people, a lot of people in America.”

Will funding police help Abrams win in November?

Polls show a sharp decline in support for the “defund the police” movement amid a surge in violent crime in Georgia and across the country.

Abrams repeatedly deflected Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s attempts to label her as defunding law enforcement. She made her stance clear on Thursday when she unveiled a plan to increase pay for law enforcement officers throughout the state.

Abrams’ blueprint involves raising state officers’ base salary to $50,000 annually, giving grants in support of higher salaries for local law enforcement, and expanding officer training.

She pointed out that law enforcement agencies throughout Georgia — urban and rural — have struggled with staffing shortages in recent years due in part to mental fatigue. There’s also the issue of low morale following public backlash against police in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

“We must also address the erosion of trust in law enforcement in our communities,” Abrams added on Twitter. “Most officers strive to do their best, but those who commit misconduct must be held accountable. In particular, the killing of young Black men who posed no threat cannot be ignored.”

It’s unclear whether this stance will help Abrams win in November, but what is clear is Black people in Georgia, and across the nation, want something done to address violent crime.

Polls show crime remains a top concern for Black voters nationwide. In Georgia, leaders in the Atlanta metro area have revealed concerns about crime are real and resonant for Black folks. Atlanta NAACP President Richard Rose and City Council member Michael Julian Bond said local residents have raised concerns with them as well.

“These constituents recognize there are issues in the police department, but they still want to see police in their communities because they’re the victims of crime,” Bond told Capital B Atlanta in February.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has made addressing violent crime one of his top priorities since taking office in January. 

Nguyen, Bailey, Boddie win key runoff races 

The candidate vying to become the state’s first Black governor surprised some political observers after Primary Day on May 24 when she endorsed two non-Black candidates competing in runoffs against Black opponents. 

Abrams endorsed Vietnamese American Bee Nguyen in the Democratic runoff race for secretary of state against Dee Dawkins-Haigler. Abrams also backed attorney Charlie Bailey, who is white, in his runoff race against Kwanza Hall for the party’s lieutenant governor nomination. The endorsement for Bailey came after Hall secured 86,000 more votes than Bailey on Primary Day. An endorsement also propelled state Rep. William Boddie Jr.’s victory over Nicole Horn in the race for the Democratic nomination for labor commissioner. 

During a conversation with Capital B Atlanta earlier this month, Dawkins-Haigler speculated that the Democratic Party may want to present a more-diverse slate of contenders to Georgia voters since two Black candidates — Abrams and Warnock — are already at the top of the ticket. 

Whether or not that’s true, what we do know is that early voting figures show Black voter turnout is up notably this election cycle.