GOP Coca-Cola Boycott Tests Loyalty of Thousands of Workers in 2022 Battleground States

Leading Republicans are turning on big business in their crusade against "woke America," broadening their attacks—previously focused on tech giants—to include household names such as Coca-Cola, Delta and Major League Baseball.

Any corporation that has expressed support for progressive ideals and culture, or has condemned Republican efforts to restrict voting rights in states such as Georgia, is in the GOP's firing line.

"My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Monday. "Don't pick sides in these big fights."

Republicans are targeting large employers of their constituents, however, including in key swing states. This could put the businesses under pressure in a way that might backfire if the boycotts are successful or if the companies opt to use this political leverage.

The campaign will push GOP voters who work for these firms and their supply chains into a loyalty test, in effect asking them to choose between their livelihoods and their political preferences, even if they agree with the party's criticisms.

The GOP is seeking to distance itself from the more toxic elements of former President Donald Trump's term—prime among them the storming of the Capitol on January 6—while retaining his hold on right-wing voters.

The rewards for this balancing act, they hope, will be Senate and House majorities come January 2023. Republicans are doing battle for the future of the party, but the prevailing focus appears to be culture wars and identity politics.

Lawmakers and strategists believe these fights can motivate the party's base, sap enthusiasm among left-leaning voters and distract from unpopular GOP economic and political plans.

The contest for nominations in Democratic-held seats shows the influence of the GOP's Trumpian, grievance politics wing, but doubling down on culture war issues carries its own risks when targeting companies that employ hundreds of thousands of people.

The nascent boycott of Coca-Cola began when CEO James Quincey spoke out against Georgia's new election law, which critics say creates multiple obstacles to voting that disproportionately impact Black voters.

"This legislation is unacceptable. It is a step backwards," Quincey said of the Republican proposals. His stance quickly drew fire from the right.

"Don't go back to their products until they relent," Trump said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) decried what he called the company's "radical politics," while former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee branded the giant "Woke-A-Cola" and said it was in league with "the Chinese Communist Party" and "the leftist loons."

The Inside Elections tracking website has identified eight battleground Senate races for the 2022 midterms; four held by Republicans and four by Democrats. With the 50-50 split in the Senate, both parties will need every vote they can get in these target seats.

Coca-Cola's headquarters are in Atlanta, Georgia, where the battles for the Senate and the presidency were decided.

Democratic candidates took both Senate seats in January runoffs with a combined margin of fewer than 200,000 votes. Of the company's 8,900 employees nationwide, around 3,700 are based in the Atlanta headquarters.

The Coca-Cola United bottling company also has a significant footprint in Georgia, with 22 sites. It employs around 10,000 people spread across multiple states.

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is among the senators up for re-election next year, having beaten Kelly Loeffler in the January runoff by fewer than 100,000 votes.

Going on the offensive against one of the state's flagship brands could prove a costly mistake for the GOP.

Republicans will also be hoping to flip Arizona, where Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) won last year's special election to unseat Martha McSally. Kelly won the contentious race by under 100,000 votes, making it a top target for the GOP in 2022.

The Swire Coca-Cola bottling company has 10 sales centers and one production site in Arizona. The U.S. arm of Swire operates across 12 other states and employs some 7,200 people.

The battleground states also include New Hampshire, where Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) defeated her GOP opponent by around 1,000 votes in 2016, and Nevada, where Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) won with a margin of about 27,000.

New Hampshire is home to five sites belonging to the Coca-Cola Northeast bottling firm, while Nevada has two Swire sites and one belonging to the Reyes Coca-Cola Company, which employs more than 6,000 people across two states.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is one of the GOP's best-known faces and tipped as a 2024 presidential contender. But first he has to win the 2022 midterm. Among his constituents are the 4,600 employees of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, spread across 17 sales and distribution centers in America's most influential swing state. Rubio, however, won his 2016 contest by more than 600,000 votes.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina also won his 2016 race with a commanding margin—about 265,000 votes. But the 16,000 employees of Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Consolidated—spread across 14 states but with 17 centers in the Carolinas and a manufacturing plant in Charlotte—might not appreciate the Republican pressure on their bosses.

The Coca-Cola factor might be more significant in Pennsylvania, where GOP Sen. Pat Toomey won his seat in 2016 by only 90,000 votes. Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages operates out of Philadelphia, employing 3,800 across five states. The company website says around 760 of these are based in the keystone state.

In Wisconsin, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson won his seat in 2016 by around 100,000 votes. The Great Lakes Coca-Cola bottling company is a fixture in the region, with more than 5,200 employees at facilities across five states, including eight in Wisconsin.

It is too early to say if the Republican pressure on household names such as Coca-Cola will play a direct role in the 2022 midterm elections. A wider attack on big business might even align both parties, though for different reasons.

A right-wing boycott of giants such as Delta (74,000 full-time employees) and MLB (some 9,000 workers) would undercut the GOP's pitch that it is both for America's working class and for the free market.

Brian Klaas, associate professor in global politics at University College London in the U.K., told Newsweek: "On paper, this isn't a fight you'd expect Republicans to want.

"Their voters—like all Americans—love baseball and drink Coca-Cola. Many elected Republicans have eloquently advocated for free market principles in past speeches.

"But today's Trumpified GOP isn't defined by those principles any longer. It's defined by grievance politics, victimhood narratives and culture wars. And it's effective politics when it comes to galvanizing the Trump base."

However, that is no way to win over independents or appeal to those Republicans who are shedding their party affiliation.

"Culture wars politics will fire up people who already are diehard Republicans—particularly pro-Trump Republicans—but organizing a boycott of Coca-Cola or Major League Baseball is not a persuasive strategy to win over new voters," Klaas said.

"Unlike other culture wars issues, the underlying policy that the companies are objecting to is related to voter suppression, which is more of a cynical partisan divide than a cultural one," he added.

Right-wing boycotts are not new. During Trump's term, right-wing voters smashed their Keurig coffee machines and cut up their Nike shoes. The latest offensive will likely capture headlines for a few weeks, then recede.

Thomas Gift, an associate professor of political science at UCL and the director of the college's U.S. politics center, told Newsweek: "It's hard to imagine these boycotts actually sticking. Do we really think that die-hard Coca Cola fans will switch to Pepsi, or that baseball fans won't tune into the All-Star game, simply because Donald Trump told them to?

"The odds of that happening seem about as good as Trump admitting that he lost the 2020 election," Gift said.

"In the short term, it seems fairly clear that support will break down cleanly along partisan lines, with Republicans (ironically) supporting 'cancel culture' and Democrats (ironically) taking the side of big business. The boycotts make for good political theater, but it's doubtful they'll have much impact in 2022 and beyond," he added.

"Ultimately, it's the reaction to the Georgia law itself, rather than the sideshow of boycotts, that's more likely to have political traction."

Coca-Cola sign in Atlanta, Georgia
Coca-Cola signage atop the Olympia Building in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on July 27, 2019. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images