WASHINGTON – When Georgia’s Senator David Perdue failed to show up for a debate on Sunday night, he had two results: Jon Ossoff, Mr Perdue’s Democratic opponent, would get free airtime without being encumbered with attacks from his rival, and the other Senate debate tonight would attract much more attention.
Republicans determined that handing Mr. Ossoff an open microphone was well worth the deal.
As Georgians prepare to vote in two rounds of voting next month that will decide control of the Senate, it is hardly a mystery as to which of the two Democratic candidates GOP officials want to raise as a target while ‘They are trying to wake up their base: Reverend Raphael Warnock, who is running against the other Republican Senator from Georgia, Kelly Loeffler.
Mrs Loeffler made clear the Republican strategy when she called Mr Warnock a “radical liberal” 13 times in their Sunday night debate. She has repeatedly referred to his past criticisms of the police and a sermon in which he once said that “no one can serve God and the army,” a theme that has its roots in biblical passages.
His plan of attack followed a similar portrayal by President Trump at his rally on Saturday in Valdosta, Georgia, where Republicans played a video that compared Mr. Warnock to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor whose comments have called attention to his relationship with Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign. The video included footage of Mr. Wright saying, “God damn America.”
This same criticism was echoed by other Republican surrogates, who spent more time focusing on Mr. Warnock than on Mr. Ossoff.
“He’s a man who celebrated Jeremiah Wright, the radical pastor who was so far to the left that even Barack Obama had to repudiate him,” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said during a layover in Georgia in the month. latest.
Making Mr. Warnock, the pastor of the legendary Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the face of the opposition for the January 5 election – rather than Mr. Ossoff, a young white documentary filmmaker – is a two-way strategy. shutters.
Spotlighting a black candidate and connecting him to the state’s most prominent African-American Democrat, Stacey Abrams, amounts to a strategy to motivate the participation of white conservatives, especially those with racist views and who are worried about black leadership. Mr Warnock would be the first black Democratic senator from the South.
The run-against-Warnock approach, however, also takes a page out of the National Republican Party’s playbook for the 2020 campaign. Republicans have found great success in the downside races, against mostly white candidates, by linking them to the most liberal figures and ideas of the Democratic Party – like the defounding of the police, which Mr Warnock does not support.
These attacks, delivered without open references to race, could prove enough to persuade the multiracial coalition of commuters who turned to Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the presidential race to vote next month for both Republicans and ensure a Senate controlled by the GOP.
“Both are political newcomers with thin paper trails,” Republican strategist Liam Donovan said of the two Democratic candidates, “but Warnock gives you a lot more to aim for than Ossoff, especially on familiar themes that resonate with the GOP audience Ossoff is just too dull to make a useful political cartoon.
Republicans have another imperative when it comes to Mr Warnock: because Ms Loeffler spent a lot of her focus and money to fend off Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican, in the first round of voting last month in the Senate race, Mr Warnock came out in November with the lowest unfavorable ratings of the four candidates vying for the two seats.
Ms Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat last December and is a first-time candidate, is seen by officials of both parties as the more vulnerable of the two Republicans; it has slightly underperformed Perdue in the small set of polls that have been released since the start of the second round.
Mr Warnock acknowledged the coming assault and quickly posted an announcement forecasting the attacks, suggesting Republicans would even claim he didn’t like puppies.
“I love puppies!” he said stroking one in the ad.
Mr Warnock, however, did not have such a line on hand Sunday night to defuse Ms Loeffler’s relentless portrayal of him as a radical. Instead, he sought to shift the focus on his rival’s wealth and the stock transactions she made during her tenure in the Senate this year.
Mr Warnock said Ms Loeffler “used her advantage as a US Senator to make millions on a pandemic while downplaying it for the people she was meant to represent.”
Mr Warnock underscored his commitment to unity – “I have worked my whole life to bring people together,” he said – and sought to reassure voters in what is still a state of center-right by supporting the police.
“Our law enforcement officers bring it into play every day,” he said, adding that they “will have an ally in me.” Ms. Loeffler, however, did not let go.
“I am not going to be lectured by someone who uses the Bible to justify the division,” she said, referring to Mr. Warnock’s sermon on God and the military. Mr Warnock responded by accusing Ms Loeffler of twisting her words for “cheap political points” and said the sermon was about “a moral foundation for everything we do”.
What might ultimately motivate the Loeffler-Warnock race, and possibly both rounds, is whether Republican attacks remind Georgian voters why they have demonstrated a long-standing preference for Republican senators, allowing them to aside their disgust for Mr. Trump’s plot. -the bargaining.
This may depend in part on Mr. Trump’s conduct after December 14, when the Electoral College formalizes Mr. Biden’s victory. Georgian officials recertified the state’s election results on Monday after a second recount confirmed Mr. Trump had lost.
“It feels like a turning point to me,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, referring to the Electoral College deadline next week. He expressed the hope of many members of his party that from then on, the two Georgian Republicans could expressly comply with the message “We need a firewall”.
For now, Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede defeat denies the two Republicans the opportunity to run on this message; Ms Loeffler demonstrated this during the debate when she declined to say Mr Biden won the presidency for fear of alienating Mr Trump and his staunch supporters.
Even though Georgia Republicans may fully present themselves as checks on Mr Biden, there are still risks in making Mr Warnock their sole target. If the attacks sound like fanaticism, the Republicans can extinguish the coalition of moderates they are trying to convince in the second round. Many Georgians from all racial backgrounds take pride in claiming a New South identity and may back down at anything that looks like overt racial bait.
In addition, the anti-Warnock message can energize black voters, who make up around 30% of the Georgian electorate.
“Democrats are struggling to bring back some of their African American voters when there is no presidential race topping the standings,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “But African Americans never had an African American Senate candidate to vote for.”
Jim Galloway, the dean of the Georgian political press and longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has warned of the risks to Republicans if they make the attacks too extreme.
He wrote in a recent column that the party is “crossing a line” when it allows Mr. Collins to claim, as he did last month, that “there is no pro-choice pastor. . What you got is a lie from the bed of hell. It’s time to send him back to Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Mr Galloway wrote: “I have been unable to decide what is most disturbing – referring to an African American man as an ‘it’, or labeling Ebenezer and his congregation as a den of Satanic influence. But it’s hard to turn back the clock – and with his silence, Loeffler has accepted both.
Pressed on this issue during Sunday’s debate, Ms Loeffler insisted she was not turning to racist appeals and, echoing Mr Trump, said “there isn’t a bone racist in my body ”. She argued that Mr. Warnock’s beliefs – not his identity – were the reason voters should be afraid Democrats would control both houses of Congress and the White House.
“What is at stake here in this election is the American dream,” she said. “This is an attack on every Georgian who gets up every day to work hard to provide a better life for his family.”
Mr. Warnock replied, “She lied, not only about me, but about Jesus.”