The Jolt: U.S. Senate debate canceled by WSB-TV after Warnock, Loeffler pull out

Candidates for Georgia U.S. Senate in 2020. From left to right: U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler; U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville and Rev. Raphael Warnock of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. Credit: Special / AJC
Candidates for Georgia U.S. Senate in 2020. From left to right: U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler; U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville and Rev. Raphael Warnock of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. Credit: Special / AJC

Last week’s Atlanta Press Club debate featuring U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her top challengers wasn’t just the first showdown in the special election contest. It was the only one.

Candidates received word last night that a once-delayed WSB-TV debate that was postponed from last weekend to this Sunday has now been canceled because both Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock declined to participate.

“Our goal had been to stage an event where Georgia voters would receive a fair look at the main candidates in this race,” read the note. “Without their participation this is not possible, and for that reason WSB-TV has made a decision to cancel Sunday’s noon debate.”

The decision by the two candidates deprives their rivals of crucial exposure during the final 48 hours of voting. In an AJC poll released Monday, Warnock led the pack with 34% of the vote -- but with no hope of breaking the 50% mark and avoiding a Jan. 5 runoff.

In that same survey of voters, Loeffler was locked in a statistical tie with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, her chief GOP rival. But Loeffler has a personal fortune that will allow her to maintain a constant TV presence over the next week -- and avoiding a debate also means avoiding harsh attacks from Collins.

As might be expected, hired guns for each GOP candidate traded shots over the decision.

“Kelly won’t debate without her teleprompter,” said Collins spokesman Dan McLagan. “She’s Georgia’s own Joe Biden.”

Loeffler spokesman Stephen Lawson responded: “WSB saving Doug from another debate embarrassment is about the only thing going right for his campaign. We’re guessing they’ll report it as an in-kind contribution.”

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will be in Warm Springs this afternoon. We’ve got this look at the significance of the visit, posted late yesterday. The Associated Press confirms the intended aspirational nature of the event:

He planned to unveil his closing message during a Tuesday speech in Warm Springs, Georgia, where natural hot springs offered President Franklin Delano Roosevelt comfort as he battled polio and governed a nation weathering the Great Depression and World War II.

The former vice president's campaign says his appearance will bookend his visit earlier this month to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when Biden used the site of the bloody Civil War battle to issue a call for bipartisanship and putting country ahead of party. On Tuesday, he will try to evoke Roosevelt's New Deal sensitivities while promising to restore the nation's character.

“This is our opportunity to leave the dark, angry politics of the past four years behind us," Biden declares in a 60-second closing ad airing on national cable channels and 16 states his campaign considers battlegrounds.

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The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer informs us that Republicans are taking Biden’s visit to rural Georgia seriously:

Gov. Brian Kemp and other top Georgia Republicans will appear at a pro-President Donald Trump rally in Manchester Tuesday — the same day Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will speak in nearby Warm Springs.

Kemp, U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson and Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer will attend the “MAGA Meet-Up" at Manchester Mill, 10 Callaway St. The counter-rally will last from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., according to the event's webpage. Admission is free.

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Over at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz -- who builds presidential prediction models -- has issued what he’s calling his final forecast for the 2020 contest. His conclusion:

Two different methods of forecasting the 2020 presidential election, one based on an aggregate level model of the national electoral vote and one based on individual state polling data, yield almost identical predictions of the outcome. The aggregate level model, first published in early August, predicts a Biden margin of 345-193 in the electoral vote. A forecast based on simply combining the results of recent state polls predicts a Biden margin of 350-188. Both predictions are extremely close to the latest forecast from the much more complex FiveThirtyEight model.

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Ever since two of her staffers contracted the coronavirus, a corner of the Georgia political world has rumbled over whether U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler also has the disease.

Though she’s said she tested negative, her aides sent out a copy of Friday’s test — partly to squelch rumors in activist circles. It’s that time of the election cycle, and whispers can become howls.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler's COVID-19 test.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler's COVID-19 test.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

But as we said in a previous post, the concern is that Loeffler took a rapid test, known to produce false negatives for those with low levels of the virus -- and the kind that led to a false sense of security within the White House earlier this month. Loeffler doesn’t appear to be engaged in self-isolating, or submitting to additional tests to ensure she is virus-free.

Her chief rival, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, quarantined for two weeks in March after coming in contact with a guest at the Conservative Political Action Conference who later tested positive for COVID-19. That was before campaign season was in high gear, of course, but it creates a contrast.

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Kelly Loeffler’s personal spending on her U.S. race makes her the third-largest self-funder in the country this cycle, behind only billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, both of whom ran failed campaigns for president. A few paragraphs from this deep dive:

When Kelly Loeffler was appointed to the U.S. Senate in December of 2019, the wealthy financial services executive made it known she was prepared to spend at least $20 million of her own money to win election in 2020.

Ten months later, Loeffler and her husband, Jeff Sprecher, have done that and much more, plowing more than $31 million in loans and contributions into GOP races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House and White House, including $23 million to Loeffler's campaign so far, all allowed by federal law.

… It has also allowed her to easily outspend all 20 of her special election opponents combined, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of Federal Election Commission disclosure reports from Loeffler, Sprecher, national Republican campaign committees, and all 20 of the candidates running in the special election, as well as data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

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As expected, both of Georgia’s U.S. senators voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday evening. The final tally was 52-48.

It was the first time since 1869 that a Supreme Court justice was confirmed without bipartisan support (one Democrat supported Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation), the Washington Post reported. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine joined with the Democrats in voting “no.”

We checked in this morning, and neither David Perdue nor Kelly Loeffler went to the White House after the vote to witness Barrett take an oath of office.

It was at the White House where Barrett was first introduced during an event on Sept. 26 that appeared to be a COVID-19 super-spreader. Loeffler was present for that one. Monday’s fete included more social distancing, more masks, a larger space and what appeared to be a smaller guest list.

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On Facebook, state Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, has announced that if he is re-elected on Nov. 3, he’ll challenge House Speaker David Ralston, a fellow Republican from Blue Ridge, for leadership of the chamber. Ralston would be seeking his fifth term as the second-most powerful figure in the state Capitol.

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In endorsement news: Ahead of his trip to Georgia today, Vice President Joe Biden has officially backed the U.S. Senate campaigns of Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

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