Loeffler Refuses to Say Trump Lost in Georgia Senate Debate
(Bloomberg) -- In a polite yet contentious debate for a Georgia race that will help determine control of the U.S. Senate, attention on the two candidates and their records was quickly overshadowed by the issue of whether President Donald Trump lost last month’s election.
Kelly Loeffler, the incumbent Republican who last year was appointed to fill the seat vacated by an ailing Johnny Isakson, refused to acknowledge that Trump lost the race. Legal challenges and recounts in Georgia have confirmed Joe Biden as the winner.
Even when her Democratic opponent, Raphael Warnock, asked her to definitively declare “yes or no” if Trump had lost, she repeated what she said throughout the evening: “The president has every right to legal recourse.”
With two seats at stake, the results of which will determine the balance of power in the Senate, candidates in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff were invited to participate in debates sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club at Georgia Public Broadcasting studios.
Republicans need to hold on to just one of the two Georgia seats to maintain control of the Senate. Should Democrats win both of the runoff races, the Senate will be split with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Vice president-elect Kamala Harris would then hold the deciding vote.
Trump blasted Georgia’s elections as corrupt at a Saturday rally but urged his supporters to vote for the two GOP senators anyway. Party leaders worry his attacks could backfire and end their control of the Senate.
At the event in Valdosta, Georgia, Trump took aim at Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after complaining they didn’t take steps to reverse Biden’s win in the state. The president kept up the attacks even after Kemp’s office said the Republican governor doesn’t have the power to overturn elections.
During the debate, Loeffler was asked if her loyalty was with Kemp, who installed her into the Senate seat, or the president, who later praised her debate performance in a tweet.
Warnock and Loeffler were the only two to debate. Incumbent Republican David Perdue declined to participate. Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff appeared earlier on the stage by himself and answered questions from the panelists.
Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman, prefaced most of her comments by referring to her opponent as “radical liberal Raphael Warnock.” Meanwhile, Warnock continued his claims that Loeffler has personally profited from her position in Washington.
“You shouldn’t use the people’s seat to enrich yourself,” Warnock, a prominent Baptist minister, said.
Meanwhile, Ossoff, standing alone on stage and repeatedly pointing and gesturing toward the empty lectern as if Perdue was there, called his Republican opponent “a coward” for refusing to show up for the event. Perdue participated in two debates before the Nov. 3 election but also turned down a third before the earlier polls.
“It shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement that a senior U.S. senator doesn’t think he has to show up and debate,” Ossoff said.
The two Democratic challengers have criticized their Republican opponents for trading shares in companies impacted by Covid-19, after they both were privy to confidential Senate briefings on the topic. At the debate, Loeffler denied those claims and said a Senate Ethics Committee investigation showed no wrongdoing.
For their part, the Republican incumbents have cast their Democratic opponents as radical liberals who want to defund the police. Warnock responded by saying he had strong relationships with law enforcement. On the issue of abortion, he said that government should not be a part of a woman’s decision to have an abortion, and he said he had not given any thought to enlarging the Supreme Court.
Vice President Mike Pence also traveled to the state for a rally earlier in the week that was attended by both GOP candidates, while Ossoff and Warnock were joined in a virtual campaign event with former President Barack Obama.
All four candidates, and their respective parties are spending record sums on advertising and efforts to get Georgia voters out to the polls for the runoffs, which are required under state law because none of the candidates received more than 50% of the votes in the November general election.
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