With the majority of the Senate up for grabs in Georgia’s twin runoff elections, a new ad from Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler slams her Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock as “too extreme for Georgia.”
For Warnock, the pastor who now occupies the pulpit at Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, the attack is just a taste of the things to come from Republicans.
With the GOP retaining their seats in Alaska and North Carolina this week, the party currently controls the Senate 50-48. That means the Democrats must win both of Georgia’s runoff elections to make it a 50-50 Senate, in which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote, giving her party a razor-thin majority in the chamber.
The other runoff in the Peach State pits Republican Sen. David Perdue against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. Perdue edged out Ossoff by roughly 87,000 votes, but failed to crack 50%, forcing a runoff.
The stakes in Georgia’s runoffs couldn’t be higher: These two elections will determine whether the GOP holds on to its majority in the Senate or if the Democrats will control both houses of Congress as well as the White House.
Warnock mostly escaped negative attacks by Republicans in the special election to serve out the final two years of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term – as the appointed Loeffler fought off a challenge from GOP Rep. Doug Collins. Loeffler captured nearly 26% of the vote in a whopping 20-candidate race – with Warnock winning nearly 33% of the vote.
In a commercial released last week that’s running on statewide TV, Warnock acknowledges that incoming fire was on its way.
“Get ready, Georgia. The negative ads are coming,” Warnock says in the spot. “Kelly Loeffler doesn’t want to talk about why she’s for getting rid of health care in the middle of a pandemic, so she’s gonna try and scare you with lies about me.”
Loeffler’s campaign fired back in a web video on Tuesday.
“Meet Raphael Warnock. He wants you to know he eats pizza with a fork and a knife. He once stepped on a crack in the sidewalk. But Georgians don't care about that,” the narrator in the spot says.
The ad then slams Warnock as “a proud defender of anti-American, anti-Semitic pastor Jeremiah Wright, who suggested America deserved the 9/11 terrorist attacks” and uses a clip of Warnock saying "we celebrate Rev. Wright."
Wright was the fiery Chicago-based Black pastor at a church once attended by then-Sen. Barack Obama who became a lightning rod during the 2008 presidential campaign when a past controversial sermon in which he said “God damn America” resurfaced.
It’s far from the first time the Loeffler campaign has tied Warnock to Wright. The candidate told Fox News last month that Warnock’s defense of Wright was “appalling, disgusting and has no place in this country.”
The narrator in the ad also charges that Warnock’s “anti-Israel, anti-2nd Amendment, sympathizes with Marxists and socialists and wants to make your neighborhoods less safe. Don't let him fool you with pizza and puppies – Raphael Warnock is too extreme for Georgia.”
Warnock spokesman Terrence Clark, responding to the accusations in the Loeffler ad, told Fox News that “you’re going to hear a lot of attacks from Senator Loeffler and her Washington allies in the next two months that misrepresent Rev. Warnock and his beliefs in an effort to scare Georgians. This is a transparent effort to distract Georgians from Senator Loeffler’s own record of working to take health care away from 1.8 million Georgians with pre-existing conditions and profiting off the COVID-19 pandemic while our state suffers.”
Those attacks from Loeffler continued on Wednesday, when the senator – campaigning with Perdue and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, claimed that “Warnock wants to keep us locked down. He wants to support Joe Biden's mandates, where we all shelter in our homes and where we shut this economy down.”
Expect such incoming fire to continue.
“The future of the country is at stake in Georgia. The January runoff gives voters another opportunity to reject the socialist agenda of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and their far-left backers,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Nathan Brand emphasized.
Will the negative attacks work?
"I think it can still motivate your base. But I don't know how well that messaging works for suburban moderates. That's an open question," said M.V. Hood, a political science professor at the University of Georgia and direcor of the school's survey research center.
But Hood, noting that there won't be a lot of undecided voters, emphasized that the runoffs are "really a turnout game - get your supporters to the polls as opposed to a persuasion game."
Democrats, in pushing back against the attacks, are spotlighting that both Loeffler and Perdue are big supporters of President Trump.
“The Georgia Republican ticket is made up of a pair of corrupt, out-of-touch politicians who profited off of the pandemic and will stop at nothing to take away Georgians’ health care. It’s clear that David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler aren’t ready for prime time and we’re focused on exposing their records in the months to come,” said J.B. Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC, the top outside group backing Democratic senators and candidates.