Senator Kelly Loeffler’s fervid campaign against her Democratic challenger in Georgia, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, has employed a new deceptive tactic, casting Mr. Warnock, a Baptist preacher, as un-American by falsely attributing a controversial comment to him that was made by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
Her attack has been bolstered by a multimillion-dollar ad buy promoting a fallacious video of Mr. Warnock that uses the same out-of-context footage.
In a news release distributed on Friday, Ms. Loeffler’s campaign linked to a 2014 flyer showing that Mr. Warnock’s church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, had hosted Mr. Wright, a controversial Chicago pastor known for his fiery rhetoric.
“Warnock has a long history of praising Wright,” Ms. Loeffler’s release said, “calling him a prophet and celebrating his infamous ‘God damn America’ speech days after it was delivered. And Warnock himself has repeatedly said ‘God damn America’ in his sermons.”
Yet Mr. Warnock has uttered that phrase only in instances when he was referring to Mr. Wright’s speech, not to endorse that sentiment himself.
Mr. Wright, who was once Barack Obama’s pastor, became a lightning rod in the 2008 presidential campaign as video clips of his incendiary language surfaced, and Mr. Obama broke ties with him that year before securing the Democratic nomination. In Mr. Wright’s sermon that included the words “God damn America,” he was criticizing the United States for its history of mistreatment of minority groups, including its enslavement of Africans.
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Dec. 18, 2020, 12:25 p.m. ET
But in Mr. Warnock’s speeches, including one he gave at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, he had quoted the phrase as part of an academic discussion of Mr. Wright’s speech that explained how the phrase had been excerpted from the speech without context and “looped to the point of ad nauseam” to criticize Mr. Wright.
Ms. Loeffler’s news release attacking Mr. Warnock followed a Facebook ad buy paid for by American Crossroads, a super PAC that supports Republican candidates and is believed to be spending as much as $35 million to keep Ms. Loeffler in office. The ads also lift excerpts from Mr. Warnock’s Chautauqua speech as evidence that he had echoed Mr. Wright’s statement.
In the runoff campaign for one of Georgia’s two Senate seats, Ms. Loeffler has tried to paint Mr. Warnock as a “radical liberal” and has also accused him of supporting the idea of defunding the police, which he denies. The Loeffler campaign, in an ad in November, had also said Mr. Warnock supported Mr. Wright’s sentiments.
In reality, Mr. Warnock has said that he supported Mr. Wright in the same way he celebrated the “truth-telling tradition of the Black church,” which he said makes people uncomfortable.
Ms. Loeffler’s latest attack against Mr. Warnock follows a controversy that emerged last week after she was photographed at a campaign appearance in Dawsonville, Ga., with a former Ku Klux Klan member, Chester Doles. After the photograph circulated online, Ms. Loeffler’s campaign said she did not know who Mr. Doles was. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that there was no evidence to suggest that Ms. Loeffler knew him.)
The Loeffler campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its latest attacks on Mr. Warnock.
Michael J. Brewer, a spokesman for Mr. Warnock, called the latest attack ads “another lowest of the low in Kelly Loeffler and her allies’ efforts to divide and mislead Georgians for their own political gains,” adding that the clips showing Mr. Warnock had been “pulled from academic discussions.”