WASHINGTON — When Senator David Perdue of Georgia didn’t present up for a debate on Sunday night time, he ensured two outcomes: Jon Ossoff, Mr. Perdue’s Democratic opponent, would take pleasure in free airtime unencumbered by assaults from his rival, and the opposite Senate debate that night time would draw much more consideration.
Handing Mr. Ossoff an open microphone, Republicans decided, was effectively well worth the cut price.
As Georgians put together to vote in two runoffs subsequent month that may determine management of the Senate, there’s little thriller as to which of the 2 Democratic candidates G.O.P. officers wish to elevate as a goal as they attempt to rouse their base: the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who’s operating in opposition to Georgia’s different Republican senator, Kelly Loeffler.
Ms. Loeffler made plain the Republican technique when she referred to as Mr. Warnock a “radical liberal” 13 occasions of their debate on Sunday night. She repeatedly invoked his previous criticism of law enforcement officials and a sermon in which he once said that “no person can serve God and the navy,” a theme that has roots in biblical passages.
Her plan of assault adopted the same portrayal by President Trump throughout his rally on Saturday in Valdosta, Ga., the place Republicans performed a video that likened Mr. Warnock to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor whose feedback drew scrutiny to his relationship with Barack Obama within the 2008 marketing campaign. The video included footage of Mr. Wright famously saying “God rattling America.”
That very same critique has been echoed by different Republican surrogates, who’ve spent extra time specializing in Mr. Warnock than Mr. Ossoff.
“It is a man who celebrated Jeremiah Wright, the novel pastor who was to date to the left that even Barack Obama needed to repudiate him,” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas stated throughout a cease in Georgia final month.
Making Mr. Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church, the face of the opposition for the Jan. 5 election — moderately than Mr. Ossoff, a younger white documentary filmmaker — represents a two-pronged technique.
Spotlighting a Black candidate and linking him to the state’s most distinguished African-American Democrat, Stacey Abrams, quantities to a method to encourage turnout amongst white conservatives, particularly those that harbor racist views and are uneasy about Black management. Mr. Warnock can be the primary Black Democratic senator from the South.
The run-against-Warnock method, although, additionally takes a web page out of the nationwide Republican Occasion’s playbook for the 2020 marketing campaign. Republicans discovered nice success in down-ballot races, in opposition to principally white candidates, by tying them to probably the most liberal figures and concepts within the Democratic Occasion — like defunding the police, which Mr. Warnock doesn’t assist.
These assaults, delivered with out overt references to race, might show sufficient to steer the multiracial coalition of suburbanites who swung to Joseph R. Biden Jr. within the presidential contest to vote subsequent month for the 2 Republicans and guarantee a G.O.P.-controlled Senate.
“Each are political newcomers with skinny paper trails,” the Republican strategist Liam Donovan stated of the 2 Democratic candidates, “however Warnock offers you much more to intention at than Ossoff, particularly on acquainted themes that resonate with G.O.P. audiences. Ossoff is simply too boring to make a helpful political caricature of.”
Republicans have one other crucial in terms of Mr. Warnock: As a result of Ms. Loeffler spent a lot of her focus and cash keeping off Consultant Doug Collins, a Republican, within the first spherical of voting final month within the Senate race, Mr. Warnock emerged from November with the bottom unfavorable scores of the 4 candidates vying for the 2 seats.
Ms. Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat final December and is a first-time candidate, is seen by officers in each events because the extra susceptible of the 2 Republicans; she has barely underperformed Mr. Perdue within the small set of polling that has been launched for the reason that runoffs bought underway.
Mr. Warnock acknowledged the onslaught coming his means and rapidly launched an advert previewing the assaults, suggesting Republicans would even declare he didn’t like puppies.
“I like puppies!” he declared as he stroked one within the industrial.
Mr. Warnock, although, didn’t have any such line on the prepared on Sunday night time to defuse Ms. Loeffler’s unrelenting portrayal of him as a radical. As an alternative, he sought to alter the main focus to his rival’s wealth and the inventory trades she made whereas serving within the Senate this 12 months.
Mr. Warnock stated Ms. Loeffler “used her benefit as a U.S. senator to make tens of millions on a pandemic whereas enjoying it all the way down to the folks she was alleged to characterize.”
Mr. Warnock emphasised his dedication to unity — “I’ve labored my entire life to drag folks collectively,” he stated — and sought to reassure voters in what remains to be a right-of-center state that he supported law enforcement officials.
“Our legislation enforcement officers lay it on the road daily,” he stated, including that they “may have an ally in me.” Ms. Loeffler, although, didn’t let up.
“I’m not going to be lectured by somebody who makes use of the Bible to justify division,” she stated, referring to Mr. Warnock’s sermon about God and the navy. Mr. Warnock responded by accusing Ms. Loeffler of distorting his phrases for “low cost political factors” and stated the sermon was about “an ethical basis of all the pieces we do.”
What finally might drive the Loeffler-Warnock race, and maybe each of the runoffs, is whether or not Republicans’ assaults remind Georgia voters of why they’ve demonstrated a longstanding desire for Republican senators, permitting them to place apart their distaste for Mr. Trump’s conspiracy-mongering.
This may increasingly rely partially on how Mr. Trump conducts himself after Dec. 14, when the Electoral Faculty will formalize Mr. Biden’s victory. On Monday, Georgia officers recertified the state’s election outcomes after a second recount affirmed Mr. Trump had misplaced.
“That strikes me as a pivot level,” stated Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, referring to the Electoral Faculty deadline subsequent week. He expressed the hope of many in his occasion that from that time on the 2 Georgia Republicans might run expressly on a message of “We’d like a firewall.”
For now, Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede defeat is denying the 2 Republicans the chance to run on this message; Ms. Loeffler demonstrated that within the debate when she refused to say Mr. Biden had gained the presidency, for worry of alienating Mr. Trump and his fervent supporters.
Even when the Georgia Republicans can totally current themselves as checks on Mr. Biden, there are nonetheless dangers in making Mr. Warnock their singular goal. If the assaults have an air of bigotry, Republicans might flip off the coalition of moderates they’re making an attempt to win over within the runoffs. Many Georgians throughout racial traces are proud to say a New South id and will recoil from something that smacks of overt race-baiting.
Additional, the anti-Warnock messaging might energize Black voters, who make up roughly 30 p.c of the Georgia citizens.
“Democrats have a tough time getting a few of their African-American voters to return again when there’s not a presidential race on the high of the ticket,” stated Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “However African-People have by no means had an African-American Senate candidate to vote for both.”
Jim Galloway, the dean of Georgia’s political press and a longtime columnist at The Atlanta Journal-Structure, has warned about the risks for Republicans in the event that they make the assaults too excessive.
He wrote in a current column that the occasion “crosses a line” when it permits Mr. Collins to say, as he did final month, that “there is no such thing as a such factor as a pro-choice pastor. What you will have is a lie from the mattress of hell. It’s time to ship it again to Ebenezer Baptist Church.”
Mr. Galloway wrote: “I’ve been unable to determine which is extra disturbing — referring to an African-American man as an “it,” or marking Ebenezer and its congregation as a den of satanic affect. However it’s arduous to stroll both again — and together with her silence, Loeffler has acquiesced to each.”
Pressed on this query within the debate on Sunday, Ms. Loeffler insisted she was not turning to racist appeals and, echoing Mr. Trump, stated that “there’s not a racist bone in my physique.” She argued that Mr. Warnock’s beliefs — not his id — had been why voters ought to be petrified of Democrats controlling each chambers of Congress and the White Home.
“What’s at stake right here on this election is the American dream,” she stated. “That is an assault on each single Georgian who will get up daily to work arduous to offer a greater life for his or her household.”
Mr. Warnock hit again: “She’s lied, not solely on me, however about Jesus.”