Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler hammered her Democratic opponent Raphael Warnock in their debate Sunday as a radical liberal and a socialist who’s out of step with the state’s values.
If Warnock is elected in January and if Democrats take charge of the Senate, she warned that they will raise taxes, defund police departments across the country, implement the radical Green New Deal and keep the country locked down during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have been blessed to live the American Dream,” said Loeffler, a conservative businesswoman. “That’s what I’m fighting for.”
Warnock, the senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, cast himself as a champion of ordinary citizens. He said he is fighting for affordable housing, health care and voting rights. He tried to paint Loeffler as rich and out of touch with average Georgians. He said Loeffler was using her Senate seat to benefit herself and the wealthy.
“I am fighting to make sure that kids like me, whether they are growing up in public housing down in Savannah, Georgia, or rural disaffected communities in North Georgia, that they have access to the American dream that I believe so much in,” Warnock said. “And I’m concerned that Washington is not focused on ordinary people.”
The race between Loeffler and Warnock is one of two Georgia runoffs that will determine control of the Senate for at least the next two years. In the other Georgia Senate race, Republican David Perdue is facing off against Democrat Jon Ossoff.
Republicans need to win one of the two races to remain in control of the Senate.
For the most part, Loeffler and Warnock stuck to their talking points during the hour-long debate, which didn’t have much in the line of fireworks.
On several occasions, Loeffler noted that she was born and raised on a farm, and worked as a waitress to pay her way through college.
“I know what it means to live paycheck to paycheck,” she said.
And she repeatedly called Warnock a radical. In fact, she almost exclusively referred to him as “radical liberal Raphael Warnock,” to the point of seeming robotic.
She framed the race as a choice between free enterprise and socialism.
As a trained preacher, Warnock came across as the more comfortable on the stage. But he, too, mostly stuck to his script. He noted several times that his father was a small business owner. He said his whole life has been about service. That’s why he entered the ministry, he said, and being elected to the Senate would be a “continuation of that life project.”
Both candidates said they would take the COVID-19 vaccine when it is approved, and would urge others to do the same. They also both dodged pointed questions from the moderators, local television, radio and newspaper journalists in Georgia.
Warnock refused to say whether he would support packing the Supreme Court with leftwing justices, saying only that he’s “really not focused on it.”
He declined a chance to specifically renounce socialism and Marxism, but did say, “I believe in our free enterprise system.”
Neither candidate was willing to put a dollar figure on the size of a coronavirus relief package they could support.
Loeffler dodged several questions about whether she agrees with President Donald Trump that November’s election was “rigged” against him. She refused to say that Trump lost the election in Georgia.
“It’s vitally important the Georgians trust our election process,” she said. “And the president has every right to every legal recourse, and that’s what’s taking place.”
Loeffler continued to use previous public remarks that Warnock has made as a pastor against him. She pointed to his criticism of Israel and a sermon where Warnock declared “nobody can serve God and the military.” Warnock said she was intentionally taking him out of context.
And Loeffler attacked Warnock for “disrespecting law enforcement,” including calling police officers gangsters, thugs and bullies. “He said we should empty the prisons and end cash bail. He won’t keep our communities safe,” Loeffler said of Warnock.
Warnock defended himself, saying it’s not inconsistent to both support law enforcement and criminal justice reform. He said does want to end mass incarceration in the U.S., but he said he’s never called for defunding the police.
“I do not want to defund the police and Kelly Loeffler knows it,” he said.
Loeffler also accused Warnock of using the Bible to justify abortion. Warnock replied that he has a “profound reverence for life and an abiding respect for choice.”
“The question is, whose decision is it? I happen to think a patient’s room is too small a place for a woman, her doctor and the U.S. government,” he said.
On a couple of occasions, Warnock accused Loeffler of dumping millions of dollars of stock after a debriefing about COVID-19 early in the pandemic. Loeffler said she’s been exonerated of wrongdoing, and the accusations against her are lies perpetuated by the liberal media. When asked if members of Congress should be barred from trading stocks, she dodged the question.
Warnock was the top vote-getter in November’s crowded runoff election, winning 32.9% of the vote in the 19-candidate field. He pulled away from other Democrats over the summer.
Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, edged out fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins for the second slot in January’s contest. Loeffler, the incumbent, was appointed to the Senate last year by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the seat vacated by Johnny Isakson, who retired for health reasons.
Both Democrats were leading their Republican opponents in the most recent poll, released Thursday by SurveyUSA for an Atlanta NBC affiliate.
In the poll, Warnock led Loeffler with 52% support, compared to Loeffler’s 45%.
The poll also found Ossoff with a narrow 50% to 48% lead over Perdue, the incumbent.
Prominent Republicans have expressed concern that some voters might sit out the January election, believing that November’s presidential race in the state was rigged against Trump.
Trump, who lost the state to Democrat Joe Biden by less than 13,000 votes in November, has repeatedly made baseless allegations that the election was stolen from him through fraud.
Some of the president’s supporters, including prominent Georgia lawyer L. Lin Wood and pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell, have suggested that Republican voters should withhold their votes from Loeffler and Perdue as punishment for not doing enough to back Trump’s conspiratorial fight to overturn the election. Trump traveled to Georgia on Saturday to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue.
“Friends of mine say we are not going to vote because we are angry about the presidential election,” Trump said during the rally in Valdosta. “Don’t listen to my friends.”