With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

How Alvin the Beagle Helped Usher in a Democratic Senate

The dog had a lot of work to do.

He was co-starring in a political ad that had to showcase the candidate’s good-natured warmth. But the ad also needed to deflect an onslaught of racialized attacks without engaging them directly, and to convey to white voters in Georgia that the Black pastor who led Ebenezer Baptist Church could represent them, too.

Of course, Alvin the beagle couldn’t have known any of that when he went for a walk with the Rev. Raphael Warnock last fall as a film crew captured their time together in a neighborhood outside Atlanta.


Racial politics were inescapable. Mr. Warnock was not just a Black candidate but the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of Martin Luther King Jr. And political scientists and strategists emphasized that in facing Ms. Loeffler he confronted a unique challenge: Running against a white woman in the South.

“He knew he was going to be perceived as a highly racialized candidate,” said Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University in Georgia and the author of multiple books about race and politics. A key question for his campaign was, she said: “Can you be racially transcendent and the pastor of arguably the most prominent Black church in America?”

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.

There has been some discussion that the beagle — the kind of breed “we psychologically associate with white people,” as Dr. Jefferson put it — was another subtle yet intentional effort to explode racial stereotypes. Mr. Magnus said the reality was more mundane: “The dog needed to be very cute, somewhat relatable and he needed to be able to hold the dog.”

A shot of Alvin in Mr. Warnock’s arms would be the punchline.

“Get ready Georgia, the negative attacks are coming,” the candidate said, predicting smears about everything from eating pizza with a fork-and-knife to hating puppies.

“And by the way, I love puppies,” he added, cradling Alvin.

Read entire article at New York Times