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Sports Meet Politics in the Georgia Senate Runoff Vote

The reception area of ​​Metro Atlanta’s office suites is a veritable museum of the football successes of the University of Georgia Bulldogs and NFL’s Herschel Walker. The office is part of a real estate development for the Atlanta Braves in the new suburban home of Major League Baseball his franchise.

This headquarters for Georgia’s Republican Senate candidate is, of course, not officially about athletics. However, the location and decorations help show loyalty to many professional sports and colleges.

“Sports is a cultural identifier, and college fandom is a big part of it in the South,” said the University of Georgia alumnus and avid Bulldogs supporter, who now lives in Alabama and is a Republican. said David Mowery, a political consultant who works with Democrats. “Now our politics and campaigns are so much about identity,” Mowery said. “We see all these overlaps.”

Sports and politics have long intersected in America. But flashpoints such as racial segregation on college campuses and professional leagues, the use of Native American mascots and imagery, athlete protests over civil rights, and power struggles over taxpayer funding of stadiums are , always present in Georgia.

For Republicans, whose coalition tends to be older, whiter, and less urban than the general population, that means an open embrace of the Bulldogs and the Braves of baseball. And Walker wasn’t the only one to lead the Bulldogs to a national championship in 1980 and win the Heisman Trophy two years later.

“Great politics, a great place to campaign,” UGA alumnus Gov. Brian Kemp said when he went with supporters in Athens ahead of a game in Georgia earlier this season.

Governor grew up in Athens and is close to the family of late Bulldog coach Vince Dooley. His wife, Marty, reminded reporters that she was a cheerleader for Georgia when she was in school, and previewed her 2022 vision for the Bulldogs. The defending national champions are “getting players,” but “we have to stay humble,” he said. (They won the Southeastern Conference Championship on Saturday.)

Kemp and the next governor. Bart Jones, who also played for Georgia, joins Walker in using red and black as his colors for the campaign. Attorney General Chris Carr, who won his second term in November, sometimes calls himself a “double-dawg.”

The Democratic coalition, on the other hand, is backed by metropolitan areas and non-whites, and currently makes up about four in ten voters in Georgia. So when a politician like Warnock brings sports into his campaign, it’s by stopping by his bar in Atlanta during the US-Iran soccer match at the recent World Cup.

Warnock will campaign in Athens on Sunday. But on Saturday, Warnock was in Augusta when Walker was out in his SEC Championship game. The senator, who visited his alma mater, the historic Blackmore College, on his homecoming weekend this fall, mixed seriousness and humor with a different focus and scale. pointing out.

“If you go to an HBCU football game, you’ll know what it’s like,” Warnock said at an HBCU fraternity and sorority campaign event. “This isn’t just a game, it’s a fashion show.” and the battle of the bands.”

Democratic 2014 gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter explained Georgia politics, citing Atlanta’s professional football team and its demographically diverse fans as an example.He lost to Kemp in 2018 and 2022. On Stacey Abrams: “Stacey needs Atlanta United’s vote.

Sure, there are white football fans in the Republican-leaning suburbs and the Bulldogs and Braves-loving white and black Democrats. One of Warnock’s entourage said that in 2018 he organized “Dawgs for Abrams” as an undergraduate at UGA. Nevertheless, partisan divisions in campaign style dovetail with race and geography, even if they are not clear.

Georgia Senate Runoff Vote

Former University of Georgia football star and Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker greets Georgia football fans ahead of the Bulldogs’ SEC Championship win over the LSU Tigers in Atlanta, Saturday, December 3, 2022. increase. Walker will face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in Tuesday’s runoff. Walker and Georgia Republicans in particular sought to use their sports and college loyalties to connect with voters. (AP Photo/Bill Barrow)APs

When Walker and Kemp chose campaign offices near each other in the Braves’ Cobb County development, Republicans explained that the outspoken decision to be near the northern suburbs of the Atlanta subway was critical to the coalition’s victory. The Braves themselves have made the same calculations, and explained the surprise move by saying they would leave New York half a century later in 2017, closer to most season ticket holders. It offered the team more than $400 million in stadium funding, but Atlanta Mayor Kassim Reed refused, instead giving the city money to renovate the downtown arena for the NBA’s Hawks. operated.)

Perhaps most notably, the Republican endorsement of the Braves comes alongside a controversy over the image of Native Americans in sports and another political uproar over the Republican Party’s 2021 Georgia election law review. That’s what I did.

Democrats, including Warnock, denounced the law as “Jim Crow 2.0” and claimed it made it harder for some black voters to vote. Georgia-based companies Delta and Coca-Cola criticized the law. The Braves were out of contention. But Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred responded by moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Cobb County. criticized.

The two Democrats also haven’t said the Braves should change their name at home games or give up the “Tomahawk chop” of fans, but others, including the Biden Whitehouse, have said they’d like to change. said that it is necessary to consider

“He should come out and say or think they should change their name. Well, I don’t,” Walker said in a Fox News appearance. At the time, Walker’s aide tweeted that the senator “must be a Mets fan.”

Yet it is undoubtedly Walker’s admiration of football that forges a unique bond between black conservatives and a multigenerational white political base.

Republican National Committee member Ginger Howard said of the 1980 championship season, “When I was in high school, Herschel Walker was the most famous person in town. Now her young nephews excitedly says:

Zach Jacobs and Zach Adams, 23, from the Atlanta suburb of Woodstock, were waiting for a photo with Walker near Mercedes-Benz Stadium downtown on Saturday. Both voted for their football heroes in the general election and said they would vote again on Tuesday.

“He’s a man of the nation and is connected to who Georgia is,” Jacobs said.

Walker has sometimes said he was one of the first generation of black players in the UGA, founded in 1785. Dooley, whose iconic coach endorsed Walker before his death in October, first offered a scholarship to a black athlete in 1971. Walker he was 8 years old. .

Warnock, born in 1969, was not a star athlete, but enrolled at Morehouse, which opened its doors during the post-Civil War reconstruction, a legacy that Warnock’s fellow HBCU alumni replaced track and field.

“We have a motto, a program: ‘People without votes are desperate people.’

A white UGA alumnus, Adams acknowledged Warnock’s deep Georgian roots. But pointing to the surrounding downtown Atlanta, he said, “Hershel is the man who can improve all of this and the rest of Georgia.”

Walker’s runoff night celebrations will be held in downtown Atlanta, just blocks from Warnock’s party. . But the returning former star isn’t necessarily breaking the mold. The venue is the College Football Hall of Fame.

— Bill Burrow Associated Press

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