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• The dog in a series of popular campaign ads was lent to Warnock’s campaign by a supporter for the purpose of filming the commercials.
• Warnock had lived with dogs on several earlier occasions, but not while the ad was being filmed.
With a mixture of admiration and criticism, Republican Senate candidate Gary Black recently brought up TV advertisements in which Democrat Raphael Warnock co-starred with an adorable beagle. The ads were widely credited with helping Warnock stage a come-from-behind victory to fill a vacant Senate seat in January 2021.
During Black’s May 13 interview with WLBB radio, Black acknowledged that the ads were "great," saying, "I tip my hat to him on that."
However, Black added, "Raphael Warnock can't even tell the truth about that. That wasn't his dog. He didn't even own that dog."
Black was correct that the dog wasn’t Warnock’s. (In Warnock’s defense, we never found an instance when he claimed it was.)
The first beagle ad, released in November 2020, made fun of what Warnock expected critics would say about him during the intense lead-up to the January 2021 runoff election. The ad’s narrator warned viewers, tongue-in-cheek, that Republican nominee Kelly Loeffler would accuse Warnock of hating puppies, among other things.
The ad closed with Warnock holding a beagle and telling the camera, "By the way, I love puppies."
A second beagle ad showed footage of Warnock walking the same dog through a suburban neighborhood. Warnock told viewers he’s confident that they will see Loeffler’s attack ads "for what they are" — right as he dumped a bag of dog poop into a curbside trash can. The beagle barked in approval, and the ad closed with the dog licking Warnock’s neck.
The ads were an immediate hit, even spawning beagle-themed merchandise. Campaign professionals said the ads served to make Warnock — a Black pastor running in a Southern state — relatable to white swing voters, right down to its use of a cuddly, nonthreatening dog breed.
"The entire ad screams that I am a Black candidate whom white people ought not 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."
That the beagle wasn’t Warnock’s own has been public since the Times reported it a few weeks after Warnock was elected to the Senate. When we contacted Warnock’s campaign staff, it referred us to what the Times wrote:
"The beagle spots were the brainchild of Adam Magnus, the Warnock campaign’s lead admaker, who wanted to find a way — through humor — to inoculate Mr. Warnock against explicit attacks and implicit ones. First he had to call the pastor. ‘I want to make sure you like dogs,’ he recalled asking.
"Mr. Warnock said he did — he had owned dogs before (Comet, Cupid and Brenal — all mutts), though not currently — and was game for a puppy-themed spot. Next, Mr. Magnus had to cast a star pooch, which he eventually found from a Georgia supporter whom the campaign declined to name."
It remains to be seen whether Warnock’s general election opponent — who is almost certain to be former football star Herschel Walker, who leads in the GOP primary by a wide margin — will criticize Warnock for including in his campaign outreach a dog that isn’t part of his family.
Black said that the beagle in Warnock’s ads "wasn’t his dog."
Black is correct: The dog was lent to Warnock’s campaign by a supporter for the purpose of filming the ads. Warnock had lived with dogs on several earlier occasions, but not while the ad was being filmed. For the record, Warnock himself has never claimed that the dog was his own.
We rate the statement True.
Gary Black, interview with WLBB, May 13, 2022
Raphael Warnock, puppy ad 1, November 2020
Raphael Warnock, puppy ad 2, November 2020
New York Times, "How Alvin the Beagle Helped Usher In a Democratic Senate," Jan. 23, 2021
FiveThirtyEight.com, "Raphael Warnock’s dog ads cut against white voters’ stereotypes of Black people," Dec. 15, 2020
PolitiFact, "Mitt Romney and the dog on the car roof: one columnist's obsession," Sept. 13, 2011
Tampa Bay Times, "After 2010 campaign, Gov. Rick Scott gave back dog Reagan," Jan. 14, 2013
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