Kelly Loeffler’s Georgia Senate Campaign Is Built Solely On Racism

The Georgia Senate race has become a microcosm of white supremacy in America

Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Unsplash

Most of America found out about Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler last summer when WNBA stars from the Atlanta Dream — a team Loeffler owns — responded to her comments “adamantly” opposing the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing shirts supporting Raphael Warnock, who is running against her. A few months later, Loeffler is one-fourth of a battle for the future of politics in America. If Loeffler and her Republican peer David Perdue lose their respective Senate races, then the Senate flips blue and Mitch McConnell will no longer hold America hostage.

Loeffler has chosen to forge a campaign against Warnock — a Black pastor — that leverages America’s history of racism and fear of Black men. Loeffler has used the language of fear and violence to address Warnock at every turn. During their debate last year, she referred to him as some variant of “Radical Warnock” instead of his actual title, “Reverend” (this, of course, went unmentioned among supposed evangelical Christian supporters). Her official website even has a tab that simply says “Radical Warnock.”

The ads, though, are worse. Every ad about Warnock—which, if you live in Georgia, airs during every commercial break on every network and in every Youtube ad—uses rhetorical and visual cues that harken back to America’s most racist political pitches. They’re 21st-century versions of George Bush’s infamous Willie Horton ad from the 80s.

Here are the titles for the ads on Youtube about Warnock: “Dangerous”; “Terror”; “Birds Of Prey.” The ads attach Warnock to Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor and someone the right has pegged as anti-American. Every ad has some variation of the out-of-context soundbite of Warnock saying “God damn America.” Another relates Warnock’s sermons about mass incarceration as a plea to empty jails. She touts Warnock as someone who is anti-police and defended a “cop killer.” All while showing ominous Black and white images of empty jail cells.

Let’s be clear: this is all about creating fear of a Black man.

Loeffler knows what it means to call a Black man dangerous. She knows what it means to say he “attacks’ military and police. She knows the history of what it means to portray Black men as running wild and terrorizing America. These are the same terms and rhetorical tricks that have led to the deaths of so many Black men in America.

In recent weeks, as polls have shown Warnock pulling away from Loeffler, the Republican candidate has doubled down on the racism, actively campaigning on instances of Warnock interacting with police. Just this weekend, she said that “the lawyer for Harvey Weinstein donated to his campaign…I don’t think that’s a coincidence”—parroting a Qanon-based notion that Warnock was somehow involved in child abuse, based on an incident in which Warnock wanted a lawyer present for a child being questioned by police. Of course, putting a Black man in proximity to police serves a very specific purpose.

Warnock has understood the game being played here and has had to spend far too much time counteracting the image of himself as dangerous. His commercials, in stark contrast to Loeffler’s, feature bright colors, gentle tones, hardy smiles and, of course, his tiny dog (pushing back on a history of Black men and dangerous dogs). These ads are seemingly effective, but they shouldn’t have to exist. Loeffler has abandoned actual policy content in favor of pure racist stereotyping and dog-whistling. Warnock has had to respond by defending his humanity.

The whole thing feels less like it’s about Warnock’s fitness for office as much as it is his worthiness to live as a Black man in America.

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us

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