With a mixture of admiration and criticism, Republican Senate candidate Gary Black recently spoke about TV commercials in which Democrat Raphael Warnock co-starred with an adorable beagle. The ads were widely credited with helping Warnock engineer a victory from behind to fill a vacant Senate seat in January 2021.
During Black’s May 13 interview with WLBB radio, Black acknowledged that the ads were “awesome”, saying, “I tip my hat to him on that.”
However, Black added: “Raphael Warnock can’t even tell the truth about that. It wasn’t his dog. He didn’t even own that dog.”
Black was right that the dog wasn’t Warnock’s. (In Warnock’s defense, we have never found an instance where he claimed this was the case.)
Beagle’s first ad, published in November 2020, poked fun at what Warnock expected critics to say about him in the intense run-off leading up to the January 2021 election runoff. The ad’s narrator warned viewers, ironically, that Republican candidate Kelly Loeffler would accuse Warnock of hating puppies, among other things.
The ad ended with Warnock holding a beagle and telling the camera, “By the way, I love puppies.”
A beagle second ad showed footage of Warnock walking the same dog in a suburban neighborhood. Warnock told viewers he was confident they would see Loeffler’s attack ads ‘for what they are’ – just as he threw a bag of dog poo into a curbside trash can . The beagle barked in approval and the announcement ended with the dog licking Warnock’s neck.
The ads were an immediate hit, even spawn beagle themed merchandise. Campaign professionals said the ads served to make Warnock — a black pastor serving in a Southern state — related to white swing voters, down to his use of a cuddly, non-threatening breed of dog.
“All the advertising is screaming that I’m a black candidate that white people shouldn’t be afraid of,” Stanford political scientist Hakeem Jefferson told The New York Times. Brian Robinson, a Georgia-based Republican strategist, agreed, telling the Times that the ads “made it harder to caricature him, because they humanized him.”
The fact that the beagle did not belong to Warnock has become public since the Times reported it a few weeks after Warnock was elected to the Senate. When we contacted Warnock campaign staff, they referred us to what the Times wrote:
“The beagle spots were the brainchild of Adam Magnus, the Warnock campaign’s lead publicist, who wanted to find a way – through humor – to inoculate Mr. Warnock against explicit and implicit attacks. He first had to call the pastor. ‘I want to make sure you like dogs,’ he recalled asking.
“Mr Warnock said yes – he had owned dogs before (Comet, Cupid and Brenal – all pooches), but not currently – and was up for a puppy-themed place. Then Mr Magnus had to launch a star dog, which he eventually found from a Georgia supporter the campaign declined to name.”
It remains to be seen whether Warnock’s general election opponent — who is almost certain to be former soccer star Herschel Walker, who leads the GOP primary by a wide margin — will criticize Warnock for including in his campaign awareness a dog that is not part of his family.
Black said the beagle in the Warnock advertisements “wasn’t his dog”.
Black is right: the dog was loaned to the Warnock campaign by a supporter for the purpose of filming the ads. Warnock had lived with dogs on several occasions, but not while filming the commercial. For the record, Warnock himself never claimed the dog was his.
We evaluate the statement True.