Loeffler, Warnock face off in heated debate

Ossoff appears solo as Perdue skips debate

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and the Rev. Raphael Warnock faced off in their first, and possibly only, one-on-one debate Sunday night at the Atlanta Press Club, trading barbed attacks in their fight for the right to represent Georgia in the Senate for the next two years.

Over the course of the hourlong debate, Loeffler referred more than a dozen times to the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church as “radical, liberal Raphael Warnock,” and she warned that U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Washington Democrats want to use the Georgia Senate seat to ram liberal policies through Congress.

“The Democrats want to fundamentally change America,” the Republican said. “And the agent of change is my opponent, radical liberal Raphael Warnock.”

She also refused multiple times to answer whether President Donald Trump had lost the 2020 election, including Georgia.

“This process is still playing out, and President Trump has every right to a legal recourse,” she said.

Loeffler was with Trump in Valdosta on Saturday night as he claimed he won Georgia’s election and spun stories about ballots in Atlanta “coming out of ceilings and coming out of leather bags.” Democrat Joe Biden won Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

For his part, Warnock continued his previous attacks on Loeffler — possibly the wealthiest member of Congress — painting her as enriching herself at the expense of Georgians suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.

Warnock said he would put “ordinary people” at the center of his policymaking in the Senate.

“She purchased that (Senate) seat,” Warnock said. “It’s done well for her. The only issue is that the people who sold it to her don’t own it.”

Responding, Loeffler said she grew up on a farm and was the first in her family to graduate from college. “I have lived the American dream,” she said.

Throughout the debate, Loeffler returned to her repeated attacks from earlier in the campaign that Warnock is “anti-police,” anti-military, “anti-Israel” and wants to defund law enforcement across the country.

In response to Loeffler’s swarm of charges, Warnock said, “She’s lied, not only on me, but about Jesus.”

He also reminded viewers that the senator had been endorsed by U.S. Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has repeated racist QAnon conspiracies.

“There’s not a racist bone in my body,” Loeffler shot back.

Loeffler often avoided answering questions directly.

When asked whether members of Congress should be allowed to trade individual stocks, Loeffler deflected. “What’s at stake here in this election is the American dream,” she said. “That’s what’s under attack.”

Loeffler had been accused earlier in the year of trading stocks based on information she got in a classified briefing during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was cleared following an investigation.

Warnock, too, moved past direct questions. Asked twice whether he would support expanding the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices, Warnock dismissed the topic as a Washington obsession.

“As I move all across the state, people aren’t asking me about the courts and whether we should expand the court,” he said. “I know that’s an interesting question for people inside the Beltway to discuss, but (people in Georgia) are wondering what in the world are they going to get some COVID-19 relief.”

On the topic of the Coronavirus, both candidates said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s deemed safe by public health experts.

“Absolutely,” Warnock said, adding that he would also work to ensure minorities have access to it.

Loeffler said that she, too, will take the vaccine. “We have a great plan to prioritize those who need it most,” she said.

Earlier in the evening, Democrat Jon Ossoff had the stage to himself, with the exception of an empty podium, as his opponent, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, stayed away from the Atlanta Press Club debate. After introducing Ossoff, moderator Russ Spencer introduced Perdue, with the camera focused on the blank space above the lectern.

When the question-and-answer portion of the debate came, Ossoff was allowed to ask the podium the question he would have asked Perdue and then answer the question himself.

“This is a strange situation,” Ossoff acknowledged.

Ossoff repeated his position that he would be supportive of additional lockdown measures to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

“I will listen to the public health experts,” Ossoff said. “And if they recommend that more aggressive mitigation measures are necessary to save lives, it would be foolish for politicians to ignore their advice.”

He also made his case straight to the camera about Perdue’s absence.

“My message for the people of our state, at this moment of crisis, is that your senator feels entitled to your vote,” Ossoff said.

In skipping the debate, Perdue missed not only the forum, but also what would have been pointed questions from reporters on the panel about a barrage of recent reports about his stock trades during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his refusal, like Loeffler’s, to publicly acknowledge Biden as the president-elect.

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Following the debate, Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry released a statement hammering Ossoff’s comments about stricter COVID measures and his call for comprehensive immigration reform.

“Tonight we witnessed something we didn’t know was possible: A candidate lost a debate against himself,” Fry said.