Like most campaign ads, the ads by Loeffler and her allies contain varying degrees of truth. But Warnock was attacked more than any other candidate in pay-TV commercials in the Georgia runoff elections. Some Democrats say he’s not striking back hard enough. But as a black man running against a white woman in the deep south, fighting back is complicated.
Warnock’s answer, or relative lack of it, is not just a reflection of his temperament. It’s a conscious calculation of his campaign that believes a black candidate, especially a black man, cannot afford to be seen as angry, aggressive, or defensive when running against a white candidate – especially a white woman.
The strategy pursued by black candidates of other races across the country is based on the fact that no black Democrat from the South has ever been elected to the US Senate. Only six African Americans were ever elected to the Chamber, and only two blacks have been elected governors in the nation’s history
Even if the candidates don’t explicitly address the race, the ghost of the race still hovers on the campaign trail. Black candidates must constantly adjust to this, said Jared Turner, who advised Mike Espy, a black Democrat, on his unsuccessful Senate bid earlier this year against Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a white Republican.
“It’s very hard for a black man to be aggressive or to react to a white woman because if you do, they’ll call you a ghetto,” said Turner. “They will call you combative, an angry black man or an angry black woman – for being unprofessional. They call us beasts. They call us dangerous. The dog whistle’s policy of being too ‘black’.”
Turner said the added dynamism of a black man pitting a white woman in the deep south adds an additional layer of cultural complexity, with echoes from “Birth of a Nation,” the first film shown in the White House in 1915 and black men showed fleeing in the deep south with white women.
In public, Warnock and his campaign have downplayed talking about race or the added burden it could place on the candidate. But privately, advisors recognize that it is an ubiquitous reality that they play war games.
“We have no reason to give [Republicans] more fodder for their attack reports, ”said a Warnock aide, adding that suburban white Georgians are most likely to be turned off by Warnock if he hits back too hard. They are crucial to a democratic victory in the state where the majority of voters are white.
“You have to know your audience,” said the consultant.
“We had to be aggressive”
Warnock’s campaign knew that race had to be a determinant of Senate drains. Warnock is the only black candidate in the two simultaneous campaigns. and he is the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the spiritual home of Martin Luther King Jr.
Some of Warnock’s sermons deal with races in raw terms, which can be uncomfortable for white voters – especially those who have never attended black church. And these sermons were one Treasury of opposition research and attack reports for Loeffler and her Republican allies.
As the run-off race began, After candidates in both races of the US Senate did not receive more than 50 percent of the vote on November 3, Warnock was attacked more than any other candidate in pay-TV commercials in the other runoff, according to AdImpact.
Their data shows nearly 62,000 negative spots for Warnock compared to about 38,000 who beat up Loeffler.
The anti-Warnock attack and his reluctance to fight back affects Democrats like Rev. Darryl Winston of Atlanta, who penned an open letter, signed by more than 100 religious leaders, asking Loeffler not to attack Warnock again. Winston said Warnock didn’t push back hard enough.
“That’s why we’ve strengthened,” said Winston. “We had to be aggressive.”
But just before Christmas, after a former Klansman took a selfie with Loeffler During a campaign event, Warnock’s campaign hit Loeffler in a campaign ad. Loeffler has denied knowing the man, but in his ad, Warnock said the Republican said the same thing in September when she appeared in another photo with the same man.
Loeffler’s campaign responded with its own spot Warnock is accused of anti-white “hate speech” in his sermons and he supports “massive taxpayer payments for racial reparations”. However, Warnock said he supports “studying” reparations.
On Thursday, Tensions escalated. A Fox News reporter asked Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is running against Loeffler’s Republican Senator David Perdue, whether the hits on Warnock would harm his own campaign.
“Kelly Loeffler fought with a Klansman,” said Ossoff.
This was not the last word in an increasingly controversial campaign. Loeffler responded by labeling both Democratic candidates as socialists, an indictment the two deny, and repeating a litany of attacks on Warnock’s associations, some of which he denies.
However, Ossoff’s decision to escalate the race discussion wasn’t just about defending a friend in the trenches. It was an example of how black candidates often have to rely on white allies to aggressively attack white opponents in the race.
“He said what Raphael couldn’t. We [Black candidates] have to be nimble. But you can’t answer directly, ”said Espy, the former Mississippi Senate candidate. His campaign, he said, used suburban white women to criticize his opponent, Sen. Hyde-Smith, for once wearing Confederate robes.
Espy said in an interview that he understands why some Democrats want Warnock to be more forceful – and why some were disappointed that he wasn’t aggressive during a November debate when Loeffler repeatedly attacked him. But he said Warnock had adroitly recognized the realities of the race and the campaign path.
“Warnock has already excited the black voice for him, but he had to make sure the white voice wasn’t turned against him,” said Espy. “He had to keep it on a higher level.”
Pollster Matt Towery, a former Georgia Republican lawmaker and long-time advisor to Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said the early poll numbers confirm Espy’s claims about black voters. African Americans are already well represented, while Republicans are concerned about the relatively low turnout of white rural voters. Approximately 30 percent of the state’s voters are black, 52 percent are white, and the rest are Spanish, Asian, and Pacific island or unknown racial origins.
Towery called Loeffler’s recent harsh publicity against Warnock “a gamble … This is a stumbling block for me. I haven’t seen anything like it before where they basically say the man doesn’t like whites. They threw the glove off … to determine their base of white voters. “
Other Republicans echoed these concerns, arguing that given Georgia’s rapidly changing population structure, Republicans are taking a risk in approaching the breed.
“I think we Republicans need to be more careful with words like ‘radical’ and the images we use around them to make sure we’re not using racial overtones or undertones,” said Heath Garrett, a Republican strategist and former campaign manager by Senator Johnny Isakson.
Loeffler and her defenders say they are not involved in racist attacks, but rather highlight the divide between Warnock, the candidate who downplays the race and Warnock, the preacher who focuses on it. To establish this narrative, the National Republican Senatorial Committee published an advertisement on Wednesday that was being used Police camera camera recordings of Warnock’s ex-wife speaking to police during a domestic dispute with the pastor. In it, she describes Warnock as “a great actor”. (Nobody was arrested.)
In an interview with POLITICO on Thursday, Loeffler said their advertisements were “not criticism. These are facts. ”
“Georgians need to know who [Warnock] is, ”she continued. “He’s doing ads with puppies because he wants to distract from his own words.”
In a campaign speech on Saturday, Loeffler attempted to associate Warnock with spouse and child abuse and said it was no coincidence that Harvey Weinstein’s attorney contributed to him – a statement Warnock supporters used as an example of the dangerous trade and inaccurate stereotypes.
When asked about Loeffler’s attack reports on CNN, Warnock said, “I’m not worried about Kelly Loeffler. She can call me any way she wants … I won’t get pulled into the mud.”
“The great pretender”
Warnock talks about races on the campaign trail, from discussing racial differences in the pandemic to police brutality towards people of color. His Ads aim to counter the narrative that it is dangerous. The campaign cut off several television spots featuring dogs owned by Warnock’s followers challenge the stereotype of black men and to make him known to a wider circle of voters.
Vernon Jones, a Black Conservative Democrat and former DeKalb County official who supports Loeffler and Perdue, called Warnock “the great pretender. He pretends he’s walking right. But he’s really going to the left. ”
Jones dismissed complaints that Loeffler pursues racial politics. Anti-black prejudices exist, he said, but they come from liberals of all races who vilify them African American Conservatives.
After a summer of protests and heightened awareness of racial issues after a Minnesota police officer killed George Floyd, black contestants say they have to walk an extra fine line.
MP Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), The youngest black woman in Congress, won re-election with just over 5,000 votes in her mostly white district. Their campaign was heavily focused on healthcare, something they did quoted in her first run as a neutral issue that would not alienate the voters who needed it.
Jamie Harrison of South Carolina adopted a similar tone in his campaign, taking moderate positions on policing issues that appealed to a larger number of voters, while underscoring the historic significance of his candidacy as a black man for the Senate. He still lost 11 percentage points to Senator Lindsey Graham.
Even Barack Obama grappled with the issue of races in the campaign, particularly in 2008 when an adviser said the campaign tried not to talk about it because he didn’t want to scare off white moderates and swing voters. Obama finally delivered a historic speech on race after pastor Jeremiah Wright’s incendiary remarks became a campaign topic.
Twelve years later, Warnock is also faced with questions about his previous connections with Wright. But while no one expects Warnock to deliver an Obama-style speech on race, Democrats say it is time for him to discuss it.
“In this Black Lives Matter movement, and after George Floyd, you have to talk about race,” said Rosy Gonzalez, a consultant who ran the independent spending group for Harrison, South Carolina, advised Underwood, Illinois, and worked for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and 2018 Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Gonzalez.
Still, she said, black candidates “don’t have to agree without being uncomfortable”.
James Arkin contributed to this report.