by Philip Wegmann
A runoff election may very well be the closest thing in politics to extra innings in baseball, and with control of the Senate at stake, the GOP in Georgia hopes an appeal to America’s pastime will help keep the majority Republican.
This would explain why Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are talking baseball in December.
“We adamantly oppose any effort to rename the Atlanta Braves, one of our state’s most storied and successful sports franchises. Not only are the Braves a Georgia institution — with a history spanning 54 years in Atlanta — they’re an American institution,” the incumbents wrote this week in a joint statement.
“The Braves’ name honors our nation’s Native American heritage, which should not be erased — and under no circumstances should one of the most celebrated teams in sports cave to the demands of the cancel culture and the radical left,” the Republicans added.
Not mentioned but very much implied: an announcement the day before by the owner of the Cleveland Indians, the American League team that will drop its century-old name for a more politically correct one to be determined later.
This makes the Braves the last team in baseball with a name referencing Native Americans, and even though the club says there are no plans to alter its identity, the statement by Loeffler and Perdue could be a smart play. Braves fans have long opposed any kind of name change, and according to new polling by the Republican-aligned Trafalgar Group, so do an overwhelming majority of likely Georgia voters.
When asked if the team needs a new name, 71.8% said no, 19.7% said yes, and 8.5% reported not having an opinion. Voters who plan to support Loeffler and Perdue were, unsurprisingly, opposed to the idea by nearly 90% in both candidates’ cases. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a majority of voters who back Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock also want to keep the name. Likely Ossoff voters oppose a change by a 54.4%-39.4% margin; among Warnock voters, it’s 55.7%-36.6%.
“It is easy to support cancel culture or dismiss cancel culture,” explained chief Trafalgar pollster Robert Cahaly, “when what is being canceled isn’t something you care about.”
The polling and the preemptive Loeffler-Perdue defense of the Braves name comes as other sports organizations have succumbed to increased pressure to change their identities deemed offensive by Native Americans and others. Before the Cleveland decision, the NFL’s Washington Redskins dropped its name, long regarded as a slur. Simply put, the issue has become an opportunity to spark a culture skirmish, if not a war, in Georgia.
While the Braves organization has promised to end its “tomahawk chop” cheer at home games, the team insists that a name change is not even under consideration. In a recent statement, the club said that its name “honors, supports and values the Native Americana community.” Team Chairman Terry McGuirk added in a July interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “we are so proud of our team’s name, and our expectation is that we will always be the Atlanta Braves.”
A native of Atlanta and also a Braves fan, Cahaly told RCP that “those feelings run deep, and they cross all lines.”
Loeffler and Perdue are not the first to run this play. President Trump has often railed against so-called cancel culture, complaining that his opponents were attempting not just to rewrite history but to fundamentally change the nation. This, as he has expressed repeatedly, includes those who kneel for the national anthem ahead of sporting events in protest of systemic racism and police brutality. Trump told RCP in a July interview that “we are in a culture war” and tried making the presidential election a referendum on that conflict by targeting, among others, those who toppled statues of long-dead Founding Fathers and other prominent figures in U.S. history. He lost to Joe Biden by more than 7 million votes.
Republicans in Georgia hope such a divide produces a different result. They have tried to label both challengers as out-of-touch democratic socialists, highlighting their controversial past statements and even mocking Ossoff for preferring veggie burgers. Whether that strategy will work is unclear three weeks from the Jan. 5 runoffs as both races remain a dead heat, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
Rooting for the home team, even if the Braves insists that they aren’t changing and no senator has authority over naming rights in sports, could have more impact than attacks against the Green New Deal or “Medicare for All.”
“One of the biggest mistakes to make is to assume that people decide who they’re voting for based on how the issues personally affect them — i.e., a rational decision, versus an emotional one, how they feel about a candidate,” Cahaly said. “But in fact, it is emotion that is more dominant.”
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Philip Wegmann is an investigative reporter for RealClearInvestigations.