In Georgia, Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock is facing off against Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Their television ads reveal a lot about the issues at play, how the candidates are perceived and the overall state of the race.
Nathaniel Rakich: Two years ago, Democrat Raphael Warnock shocked the world by winning a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia and handing Democrats control of the Senate. His secret weapon? Clever TV ads like this one.
Warnock in Warnock ad: We told them the smear ads were coming, and that’s exactly what happened. … But I think Georgians will see her ads for what they are, don’t you?
Alvin the Beagle: Arf, arf, arf!
Rakich: Now, Warnock is facing another tough campaign, this time against former football player Herschel Walker. According to the FiveThirtyEight forecast, it’s the most likely election to decide control of the Senate in 2022. And right now, it’s a very close race.
So if you’re Raphael Warnock, what do you do? Why, air some more clever TV ads, of course.
Warnock in Warnock ad: If the race between me and my opponent were out here, I could understand why you might choose him. If it were here, of course. But this campaign is about who’s ready to represent Georgia.
Rakich: These ads have helped give Warnock a good reputation in Georgia. According to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University, 50 percent of Georgia voters had a favorable opinion of him, and 57 percent said he cares about average Georgians.
So in their ads, Republicans have tried to give voters permission to like Warnock as a person — but still vote against him as a politician.
Narrator in National Republican Senatorial Committee ad: Raphael Warnock means well, but it’s not really working. Like when he bragged about creating jobs here with electric buses — but then workers there got slammed with layoffs.
Rakich: And they’ve tried to tie him to President Biden, who’s less popular in the state.
Narrator in Senate Leadership Fund ad: Raphael Warnock spent the last two years enabling Joe Biden and crushing Georgians, voting for trillions in reckless spending, causing inflation and higher prices.
Rakich: Democrats have gone on the attack in their ads, too, though. In particular, they’ve highlighted how Walker’s ex-wife has accused him of domestic violence.
Narrator in Georgia Honor ad: Herschel Walker has repeatedly threatened to kill his ex-wife. He “held a razor to her throat” and “threatened to kill her.” He’s accused of choking her until she passed out. He threatened a shootout with police outside her home.
Rakich: Walker’s responded with ads like this one, reminding voters of his football career, which includes leading the University of Georgia football team to the national championship in 1980.
Walker in Walker ad: I’m used to hard hits, getting knocked down and cheap shots. So far, Warnock and his allies have lied about me, my business and my work with veterans.
Rakich: Walker faced some more bad headlines at the beginning of October, when the Daily Beast reported that he had paid for his pregnant girlfriend to get an abortion in 2009 — even though Walker the candidate opposes abortion in all cases. Walker denied the allegations, but he did release this direct-to-camera ad shortly after the story broke.
Walker in Walker ad: As everyone knows, I had a real battle with mental health — even wrote a book about it. And by the grace of God, I’ve overcome it.
Rakich: The ad seemed to be Walker’s explanation for his flaws — one especially designed to appeal to religious voters, who are a big part of the Republican base in Georgia. But it’s not clear it worked. In that Quinnipiac poll, taken just after the ad came out, 55 percent of voters had an unfavorable opinion of Walker, and 57 percent said that he was not honest. And head-to-head polls moved a couple points toward Warnock after the abortion story, too.
As of mid-October, Democrats and Republicans had spent $225 million on ads in this race, making it the most expensive campaign in the country. But the race is far from over. The polling is still very close, and there’s even a chance that neither candidate gets a majority of the vote. Under Georgia law, that would trigger a runoff election between Warnock and Walker on Dec. 6. When that happened with Georgia’s Senate races in 2020, the runoff saw more than half a billion dollars in ad spending, so when it comes to Georgia TV ads, this could be just the beginning.