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George on Georgia – The Ad War

Avondale Estates campaign coverage Editor's Pick George on Georgia Metro ATL Tucker

George on Georgia – The Ad War

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George Chidi


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“Raphael Warnock eats pizza with a fork and knife,” the ad begins.

I’ve started hearing the ad in my sleep. I can recite it word for word at this point. I am rapidly reaching a point where I can’t not recite it, like somebody played an old Chumbawumba song and now you’re absent-mindedly humming “you get a whiskey drink, you get a vodka drink” over and over until you either go to YouTube to inoculate yourself with some System of a Down or scratch the itch inside your head with a curling iron.

I loathe political advertising.

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I hate it because I understand exactly how it works. I hate what it says about our collective lizard hindbrain. People like to pretend we are perfectly moral and have a perfect appraisal of our self-interest, and it’s only all those other idiots who can’t seem to act with reason and logic.

No, chuckles, it’s you too. And if you don’t get that, it means this stuff affects you more.

The ad war is being waged in DeKalb County. About one in 12 of Georgia’s voters lives here. Turnout in November increased by about 55,000 votes over 2016, a 17.6 percent increase. That’s a hair less than the increase statewide; campaigns probably could have squeezed another 10,000 votes out of the county, though I imagine the cost would have been astronomical.

Trump won about the same proportion of the vote this year in DeKalb as four years ago — 16.4 percent then to 15.8 percent now. But the increased turnout meant that Biden earned about 54,000 more votes than Clinton did in DeKalb in 2016. Turnout appears to have risen in almost exclusively-black precincts in South DeKalb by 10 percent here or 15 percent there, but not the 20 and 25 percent jumps in the multiracial middle class and professional-class precincts like Brockett in Tucker, LaVista, Dunwoody and Avondale Estates. There, Trump got clowned: precincts went from partisan breakeven to Biden by two to one, largely because of increased participation and (mostly) white women flipping their votes.

Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff need that turnout here to remain high. So they’re going to micro-target voters here. I expect their campaigns and the outside groups working on the mother of all Senate runoffs to spend about $100 million in advertising and voter turnout in Georgia. And I bet at least $15 million of it ends up in DeKalb. That would be about $27 per registered voter. 

In a heads-up race, almost all regular voters are party-line voters. The people who flip between parties also tend to vote less reliably than others. And for them, the thing that is most likely to determine their vote … is if they recognize a candidate’s name.

I don’t watch a lot of TV. But my cousin Steve Gosselin is visiting from Massachusetts. When he’s up, we sit around, watch poker on TV and shoot the breeze. Pluto TV — a Roku-based Internet channel — has a poker channel, and apparently extremely attractive advertising rates, because the ad shows up in every single commercial break, occasionally twice or three times back to back.

 “Raphael Warnock once stepped on a crack in the sidewalk.”

The 30-second spot makes light of negative advertising and appears to have been ready to go the day after the runoff. Warnock’s crew knew they would be in the runoff and had the luxury of forward planning. They also had enough money to play with. The beauty of the ad is in how it repeats Raphael Warnock’s name over and over again without negative associations. And by repetition, I mean absolutely massive saturation of every medium it can play in.

Loeffler only started firing back this week with dreadful, predictable prevarication about Warnock and Fidel Castro. It’s a lie, but the truth is beside the point: if you grow disgusted with politics, the ad works. The advertising we see reflects this reality. Higher turnout means a Warnock win. Loeffler’s team would be quite happy with less committed voters declaring a pox on both houses and staying home.  

Warnock has to be able to walk back into King’s pulpit when this election ends, regardless of whether he wins or loses. I think that affects the way he has to communicate. Warnock will not risk disgracing his congregation in the name of a political election. He has sharp criticisms to make of his opponent, but I think he’s likely to remain positive.

Loeffler’s constituency doesn’t expect anything like that of her … because like so much of her life, her constituency was a gift to her through appointment. Wall Street will expect her to go headhunting and will ding her for anything less than Predator-level aggression.

Thus, the misleading, negative advertising. Republican partisans who live and die on outrage will love it. Everyone else will think it’s stupid and question our collective morality for entertaining it.

“Raphael Warnock even hates puppies.”

The dynamic between David Perdue and Jon Ossoff will be different, because they can both afford to go to axes at two paces.

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I sense the joint campaign may set up Ossoff as the heavy, issuing beat downs on Perdue while Warnock can appear somewhat above the fray. As long as Ossoff doesn’t overstep, Warnock’s voters will help carry him across the line. We’re starting to see that with the way Ossoff has been attacking Perdue for cowering like a timorous mouse, afraid to appear in further debates.

Perdue has been unusually allergic to contact with actual human beings while in office. He has never held a town hall, only private events one must pay to attend. He never appears in public unless the crowd has been vetted for ideological fidelity. And Perdue pulled out of debates after Ossoff made him look stupid when talking about Perdue’s questionable stock trading at the start of the pandemic.

Perdue is completely dependent on Georgia’s Republican political infrastructure to win, because he has no real personal relationship with voters. In a runoff election that hinges on voter turnout, that may be the reason Perdue loses in two months.

“Perdue is chicken,” Ossoff said at a rally on Sunday. I think that taunt will stick. Perdue is in an unusually dangerous position depending on outrage-driven conservatives who expect their elected representatives to be able to own the libs. Hard to look like you’re standing up to liberals when you’re afraid to actually stand in front of one.

– George Chidi is a political columnist and public policy advocate. He also writes for The Intercept

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