The ad was released one day after a gunman opened fire on an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing five people and injuring at least 25 others. It also came one day after the Transgender Day of Remembrance. At least 32 transgender people have been killed this year, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign.
Walker’s 30-second spot features Riley Gaines, a cisgender female swimmer who complained about competing against Lia Thomas, a transgender female swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania.
Walker said it is “unfair and wrong” for Thomas to compete in women’s sports and accused his Democratic opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, of being “afraid to stand up for female athletes.”
Throughout the midterm elections, Republicans have made transphobic attacks and anti-trans rhetoric a key part of their message to voters.
However, many Republicans who ran on that extreme and hateful message lost their races, leading the GOP to have one of the worst midterm showings for a party out of power in recent history.
A Morning Consult poll released on Nov. 16 found that the issue of “transgender athletes participating in sports” was at the very bottom of the priorities voters want Congress to focus on. The poll found just 18% of voters said that issue should be a “top priority” for Congress.
Moreover, the Human Rights Campaign says attacks on transgender youth in sports like the one Walker made in the ad fuels violence against the transgender community.
“When lawmakers discuss bills banning transgender and non-binary youth from accessing medical care, playing school sports or using restrooms, it sends a message that even from an early age, transgender and non-binary people are different and unwelcome. When media companies give a platform to transphobic content rather than telling the full and rich stories of our lives, it sends a message that trans lives aren’t valuable,” Jay Brown, the senior vice president for programs, research, and training at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, said in a statement about the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Despite all of this, Walker — who has a history of making anti-LGBTQ comments — is using the issue to try to win the Dec. 6 runoff against Warnock.
The ad is not even the first time Walker has attacked Thomas or transgender athletes. In March, Walker said it was “totally unfair” that Thomas could compete in women’s sports and said her participation in the race “sets back the women’s rights movement 100 years.”
Democrats, for their part, have already won control of the Senate with 50 seats. However, if Warnock wins, Democrats would have an outright majority and would not need Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. It would give Democrats a majority of seats on Senate committees and allow Democrats to move nominations and legislation quicker.
The race headed to a runoff after neither candidate garnered the necessary 50% of the vote to win the contest outright. Warnock came in first in the Nov. 8 election with 49.43% — just shy of the total he needed to win outright.
There has been no public polling in the runoff. However, political handicappers say the fact that Walker had a hard time coalescing Republicans behind him in the general election could hurt him in a runoff.