Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her Democratic opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock spent nearly an hour trading attacks against one another in a charged debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club and aired by Georgia Public Broadcasting Sunday night.
The debate aired less than a month before the Senate runoffs in Georgia that will decide the U.S. Senate majority and the federal balance of power for the next two years. If Democrats win both Georgia seats, both parties will have 50 members in the Senate and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will serve as the tiebreaker. If Republicans hold one or both seats, they will maintain the Senate majority.
Loeffler repeatedly referred to Warnock as a radical liberal who will defund the police and raise taxes on Americans who are already struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Warnock repeatedly accused Loeffler of profiteering off the pandemic and being unable to state why Georgians should vote to keep her in office.
Both candidates had to spend speaking time denying their opponent’s accusations. Warnock said he does not support defunding the police. When Loeffler accused him of denouncing the military, Warnock said his quotes were taken out of context to make a “cheap political point.”
“People will turn anything into a kind of cynical political argument...” Warnock said. “It was a sermon about a moral foundation for everything that we do, and that when you have everything in order, that actually makes you a better soldier. It also makes you a better Senator.”
When Warnock said she has worked against providing more economic stimulus to Americans, Loeffler responded by saying she supported all relief packages in the early months of the pandemic. She also said she has been cleared of any wrongdoing in her stock trading.
“I’ve been completely exonerated,” Loeffler said. “Those are lies perpetrated by the left-wing media and Democrats to distract from their radical agenda… I’ve worked hard to deliver relief to Georgians during this pandemic, and I’m continuing to do that.”
When asked about President Donald Trump’s lawsuits to contest the outcome of the presidential election in Georgia, Loeffler said Trump is within his legal rights to challenge them.
Despite the attacks from both sides, the candidates were able to make a few policy points throughout the debate. When asked how she has reached out to minority communities, Loeffler said she introduced a prosperity plan for underserved communities. The plan would incentivize investments in low-income minority communities and allocate $7 billion to the federal Community Development Financial Institutions Fund which aims to expand economic opportunities in underserved communities.
When asked about ways to stimulate the economy and help those struggling to pay rent and small business owners, Warnock said essential workers should be paid “an essential wage” and the government should provide small business owners with financial support. On the topic of abortion, he said the government should not get involved in a person’s choice.
“Those who are concerned about life, and I certainly am, ought to be focused on the incredibly high rates of infant mortality and maternal mortality in our country,” Warnock said.
The candidates found common ground when discussing a COVID-19 vaccine, both saying that when a vaccine is released, they will take one and encourage others to take it.
The Atlanta Press Club also hosted an earlier debate that was supposed to be between incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue and his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff, but Perdue declined to attend. Following its explanation of the debate rules, the Atlanta Press Club left an empty podium to represent Perdue but only addressed questions to Ossoff.
The “debate” was scheduled to be an hour long, but finished in less than 30 minutes.
In regard to the pandemic, Ossoff said the federal government should be rushing to pass direct relief to people and small businesses affected by COVID-19, including direct stimulus checks to people. When asked if he would support another lockdown, Ossoff said politicians would be “foolish” to ignore health experts’ advice if they called for more aggressive action to mitigate the spread of the disease.
Ossoff spent much of his time criticizing his opponent, including Perdue’s part in the federal COVID-19 response and his refusal to participate in the debate.
“Your Senator feels entitled to your vote,” Ossoff said. “Your Senator is refusing to answer questions and debate his opponent because he believes he shouldn’t have to. He believes this Senate seat belongs to him.”
Election Day for the Senate runoffs is on Jan. 5, but early voting begins Dec. 14.