“I always enjoy visiting places of worship”: Sanford Bishop and Election 2022
Published 9:58 am Thursday, October 27, 2022
Jason Berggren and Michael Hooks
Note: D. Jason Berggren is an associate professor of political science at Georgia Southwestern State University. Michael Hooks is a junior majoring in political science at Georgia Southwestern State University.
Congressman Sanford Bishop is running for reelection in Georgia’s Second Congressional District. First elected in 1992, he is seeking a 16th term in office. With the passing of John Lewis in 2020, the Albany Democrat is now the most senior member in Georgia’s congressional delegation and the state’s last remaining member elected in the twentieth century.
Members of Congress, like Bishop, are political actors who possess many political goals. These goals may include pursuing good policy, developing issue or process expertise, providing competent constituent service, increasing chamber influence, or seeking higher office.
But perhaps the most important and most universal goal is winning reelection. As David Mayhew explained in his 1974 classic, Congress: The Electoral Connection, members of Congress are generally “single-minded seekers of reelection.” Reelection, after all, is the key to incumbency every two years for US House members and the incumbent advantage possessed over election challengers.
Since 1992, Congressman Bishop has usually won reelection every two years by comfortable margins. During presidential election years, he even outperformed the Democratic presidential candidate at the top of the party ticket. To illustrate, in 2012, he ran five points better than Barack Obama did in the district (64 to 59 percent); in 2016, he ran six points higher than Hillary Clinton (61 to 55 percent); and in 2020, he bested Joe Biden by three points (59 to 56 percent).
The Congressman is forecasted to win again in 2022, but the race appears to be tightening. FiveThirtyEight once had Bishop “clearly favored” to win by at least ten points. Now, he is “favored” to win with a 54 – 46 margin. The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball continue to designate the seat as “likely Democratic.”
RealClearPolitics has moved the race from “Lean Democrat” to tossup. This decision was based on a Trafalgar Group poll from October 14–16 that showed Bishop with only a four-point advantage, 50 – 46 percent. Another poll taken on October 17 by InsiderAdvantage has the race at 47 percent for Bishop and 44 percent for West.
To achieve reelection, members of Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, may directly court religious voters or address specific religious communities where they gather at their places of worship. In their 2007 book, David Domke and Kevin Coe called this electoral approach the “God strategy.” While the focus of their study was on the modern presidents, the “God strategy” can be utilized by other political actors and can include many different “acts of communion.”
By reviewing his social media posts on Facebook and Twitter from August to October, we found that Congressman Bishop often used his Sundays to make church visits with the express purpose of encouraging voter participation and promoting his reelection. The churches Bishop visited were African American and mainly in Albany, Columbus, and Macon.
When we asked about the purpose of Bishop’s church visits, campaign staff offered the following explanation: “Church visits are arranged based on the Congressman’s desire to share worship experiences with people across Middle and Southwest Georgia. Faith is a common value, a common denominator, that most of his constituents share. Whenever his schedule allows, he tries to visit, meet and greet people of faith in their faith environments as a way of conveying his mutual respect for the high moral principles he shares with them and the other diverse religions practiced across our Nation. The message is that we are joined together in a common faith in the value of all humanity and should therefore work together in unity for the common good.”
According to our count, approximately 40 percent of the Congressman’s campaign activities as reported on Facebook from August 24 to October 23 were church visits. This was clearly the leading type of campaign activity involving the Congressman. The other types, such as those involving the Democratic Party, organized labor, or agriculture, were well behind.
Unless indicated otherwise, the posts included here are from the “Sanford Bishop for Congress” Facebook account and are presented with very minor edits. Select hashtags are also included to illustrate that the church visits were connected to electoral politics. There were other posts where Bishop made general religious references or offered acknowledgments of religion. We included these here as well. Congressman Bishop’s “God strategy” for re-election is on full display. The accompanying church visit photos were provided as a courtesy by Bishop’s campaign staff.
August 24 – Forrest Park Baptist Church, Columbus. “A good time was had by all at the 151st Annual Session of the Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Association and the 121st Women’s Missionary Convention. It’s always an honor and a privilege to fellowship with men and women of God. #bishopforcongress #Bishop2022 #VoteBlue2022 #PeopleOverPolitics #GeorgiaDemocrat”
August 30 – Rally for Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock, Columbus. “I was proud to introduce my friend and colleague Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock last night in Columbus, GA. Not only is he a minister and humble man of God, but he is also a public servant who will help us save the soul of America!”
September 12 – First Missionary Baptist Church, Thomasville. “I always enjoy visiting places of worship, no matter the denomination. On Sunday, I was fortunate to be invited by Rev. Jeremy Rich to be the Guest Speaker at First Missionary Baptist Church in Thomasville as we remembered those we lost on 9/11 and worshiped together. I am reminded of the words of comfort the late Queen Elizabeth II sent to us on that fateful day 20 years ago. She said, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ Our thoughts and prayers will never cease for those who lost loved ones in 9/11.”
September 18 – Prospect African Methodist Episcopal Church, Columbus. “Psalms 1:3 was the inspiration for my words of encouragement as the Guest Speaker for Prospect AMEC’s Sons of Allen Men’s Day Celebration this morning. The pecan orchards I watch as I travel from Albany to Columbus remind me of righteous men and women and the ways they mirror the attributes of a tree that is planted. They stand upright with integrity, they are always in good company, they withstand storms, and like a tree with roots firmly planted – a righteous man is a praying man. Join me this fall by letting your vote be your voice, for a righteous man or woman always votes!”
September 18 – Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church, Columbus. “God is the joy and the strength of MY life. As the choir sang this old favorite of mine, there was a powerful atmosphere of praise and worship in the sanctuary as the Music Ministry of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church in Columbus, GA led a celebration of the church’s 122nd anniversary.”
September 18 – Metropolitan Baptist Church, Columbus. “I ended my day at Metropolitan Baptist Church’s Women in Ministry event. It was an opportunity to answer questions that have been on the hearts and minds of women voters. Data shows that in 2020, 9.7 million more women voted than men, so just as in our homes and communities, it is also women who drive much of what happens in local, state, and national politics. But no matter who you are, I encourage you to let your vote be your voice on November 8th.”
September 25 – Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, Macon. “Today I stopped by Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Macon as they celebrated 136 years of ministry and service. As I thought of the original, humble, wooden structure erected in 1886, I was reminded of Matthew 16:18 when Jesus says to Peter ‘upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ Mt. Moriah has seen many trials and tribulations, but today, Mt. Moriah is proudly looking ahead to its next century.”
September 26 – Lundy Chapel Baptist Church, Macon. “‘It Shook Me, But It Didn’t Move Me’ was the sermon title at Lundy Chapel yesterday; as I listened, I thought back to my 2013 cancer diagnosis. I was scared, but like Job, I trusted Him anyhow. Thanks to the prayers of many, especially throughout Middle & Southwest Georgia, I was soon cancer free. If we are still here, it means we have more work to do. So, I will continue to serve God by serving His people – until I can’t any longer. #BishopForCongress #VoteBlue22”
September 26 – Jewish New Year Greeting. “Happy new year to all who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah! May this year be filled with joy, peace, and prosperity.”
October 8 – Macon. “Founded in 1817 and arriving to Georgia in the early 1860’s, the A.M.E. church today has more than 2.5 million individual members across the country. Georgia’s 6th Episcopal District is home to more than 500 A.M.E. churches, and my campaign was honored to be in Macon-Bibb as their members, under the leadership of Bishop Reginald Thomas Jackson-Presiding Prelate, gathered for the Mid-Year Convocation.”
October 8 – Rally for Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock, Macon. “It’s always a great time when I’m able to connect with my friend and Brother in Christ, Senator Raphael Warnock, so joining him on the campaign trail is always energizing. Our rally in Macon had an awesome turnout…”
October 9 – The Real Church, Albany. “There’s an unapologetic praise all over The Real Church in Albany, Georgia this morning!! It has truly set the tone for my day. I stopped by this morning, just for a moment, to remind Bishop and First Lady Pierce, members, and friends that we’ve got to vote like we’ve never voted before. Your vote is your voice. Make sure your voice is heard RCNation and friends!”
October 9 – First Monumental Faith Ministries, Albany. “Jesus came to give life and give it more abundantly, but we must remember – he also ordained governments to help us do life the right way!! Pastor Carter, members, and friends of First Monumental Faith Ministries, the way we honor our ‘charge to keep’ and make sure government is done the RIGHT way is by voting! Early voting begins Oct. 17th. #bishopforcongress”
October 9 – Greater Pine Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Albany. “Spending a few minutes at Greater Pines Chapel Baptist Church to give my friends here a reminder: Politics determines who gets what, when they get it, and how they get it. While your elected officials make those decisions, it’s YOU who decides which elected officials will have that power. Please, Greater Pines Chapel, let your vote be your voice on Nov 8th.”
October 12 – Evangelical Faith Vision Ministries, Albany. “A visit to Evangelical Faith Ministries in Albany is like going home. 30 years ago, when I first decided to run for Congress, it was Apostle Isaiah Revels who anointed me with oil and said, ‘Son, as long you serve God by serving his people, you will be blessed.’ The rest is history. I am thankful to Apostle Felix Revels and members for welcoming us to Evangelical Faith on last Sunday. #VoteBlue”
October 12 – St. Paul AME Church, Columbus. “Tonight’s meet and greet at St. Paul AME in Columbus had an awesome turnout. I enjoyed getting to discuss what we do in Congress to help the people of Middle & Southwest GA. Please remember, early voting starts on Oct 17th. Don’t put it off. Vote early and get it done! Now, more than ever, we’ve got to let our voices be heard.”
October 16 – Holsey Monumental CME Church, Columbus. “Tonight’s GOTV Gospel Extravaganza at Holsey Monumental was a great way to kick off early voting. Early voting starts tomorrow, Oct 17th, so make a plan to vote early now. If you can’t go early, make sure to get to the polls on Nov 8th.”
October 18 – Post-Debate Tweet, Columbus. “Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy on this earth. I view my position as a ministry of public service. This job doesn’t belong to me, or to Democrats or Republicans. It belongs to the people of the 2nd District, and I trust their judgment.”
October 20 – St. James AME Church, Columbus. “There’s no doubt the outcome of this election is vital, but what’s even more important is making sure folks get to the polls! It’s great to see the faith community lead the way to educate voters and increase voter participation. The Black church has always fought voter suppression and worked tirelessly to get Souls to the Polls since the days of Jim Crow. The way churches have again become intentional about widespread, multi-denominational voter participation efforts in the last two to three years brings joy to my heart. Last night’s GOTV event at St. James is just one of many examples of this great work being done by Black churches throughout the state and across the South.”
We also examined the social media accounts of the Congressman’s challenger, Chris West. Perhaps a bit surprising to some, we did not find the Thomasville Republican making the same sort of direct appeals to faith, visiting churches, or describing his politics in religious terms as his Democratic opponent. The exceptions were retweets made on August 3, August 14, August 23, and August 28, of what others had said.
Instead, West has stressed his support from farmers, agribusinesses, and the district’s rural communities. In October, he has attended several events in some of the smaller population counties of Colquitt (Moultrie), Decatur (Bainbridge), Mitchell (Camilla and Pelham), Quitman (Georgetown), Sumter (Americus), and Webster (Preston).
Signs reading, “Farmers for West,” are common images found across the district and on the West campaign’s social media accounts. He frequently uses agrarian language to make his case to the voters. The following tweet from Sept. 2 is illustrative: “This is the year we’re going to defeat 30year incumbent Sanford Bishop, rotate the crop in Southwest Georgia, and deliver fresh, new leadership in Washington.”
A more recent tweet from October 19 aimed to nationalize the campaign’s appeal to the district’s farmers. It read, “Farmers across #GA02 support our campaign because the Bishop / Biden agenda has created record-high food, fuel, and fertilizer prices. As your next Congressman, I will work to lower costs and deliver results for families and farmers across #GA02!”