Senator Kelly Loeffler has refused to denounce Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 election in Georgia was “rigged”, instead highlighting her previous recent statements calling for investigations into the election results.
“It is very clear that there were issues in this election,” Ms Loeffler said on Sunday at a debate with her Democratic opponent Raphael Warnock, despite the fact her state has counted ballots three times and returned the same result – that President-elect Joe Biden beat Donald Trump there by several thousand votes.
Ms Loeffler highlighted more than 250 open investigations into voter fraud brought mostly by Republicans in attempts to overturn the results of the election.
“We have to make sure that Georgians trust this process because of what's at stake in this election,” Ms Loeffler said.
The senator, who was appointed to her seat last year after Republican senator Johnny Isakson resigned due to health concerns, reverted to similar talking points when asked point-blank by her opponent whether she accepted the results of the general election.
Ms Loeffler has publicly sided with Mr Trump that the 2020 election was rife with fraud, going so far as to call for the resignation of Georgia’s GOP secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, even though she has not highlighted any specific issues with the election results.
On the attack, Ms Loeffler repeatedly sought to tie Mr Warnock to the Democratic establishment in Washington, as well as “socialism”.
She made multiple references to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s comments that Democrats would “change America” if they win both Georgia Senate seats to take back the Senate majority in the 5 January runoffs.
Democrat Jon Ossoff is challenging GOP Senator David Perdue, who did not attend their scheduled debate earlier Sunday night.
Mr Warnock, a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr once preached, pitched himself as a champion of “ordinary people”.
He claimed Ms Loeffler, the wealthiest member of Congress, was incapable of representing such people’s interests.
“I’m concerned that Washington is not focused about ordinary people,” said Mr Warnock in one of his first comments of Sunday’s debate. “You can’t tell the difference between Washington backrooms and corporate boardrooms. My opponent represents the worst of that kind of problem.”
Mr Warnock has campaigned on a platform calling for criminal justice and policing reform, expanding health care access, and providing better funding for education.
Ms Loeffler continued her strategy of presenting herself as a bastion against that liberal agenda, with an emphasis on standing up for the US military and law enforcement officers.
To drive home that message, every time she referenced her challenger, she robotically referred to him as “radical liberal Raphael Warnock” and accused him of advocating to “defund the police”, even though Mr Warnock has not endorsed that phrase and has said he does not support pulling resources from police departments.
Ms Loeffler accused Mr Warnock of lawless ideas, saying he wants to “empty the prisons” and let inmates run amok. She was referring to a comment Mr Warnock had made regarding onerous marijuana convictions that have disproportionately affected black communities, particularly young people.
“It’s not enough to decriminalise marijuana; somebody’s got to open up the jail cells and let our children go,” Mr Warnock said in the actual quote. In that speech, he had been discussing the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill from 2018 that reduced the legal penalties for simple drug crimes but did not grant retroactive amnesty to previous offenders who are still in prison.
Earlier in the night, Mr Ossoff used the debate stage to call Mr Perdue out as a “coward” for not taking moderators’ questions and facing him in another war of words and ideas.
“He's not here because he's afraid he may incriminate himself in this debate,” Mr Ossoff said, referring to the senator’s buying and selling of financial assets while making policy during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Loeffler has faced similar scrutiny for her financial portfolio management amid the pandemic.
Neither senator has faced serious criminal allegations, but Democrats have run with the notion that they are “corrupt” and attempting to profit from their office.
“David Perdue has been getting rich in office. And instead of taking public health expertise and guidance from the CDC and getting that to the people, and implementing policy, he was buying up shares and manufacturers of vaccines and medical equipment,” Mr Ossoff said on Sunday, opposite an empty podium representing the absent Mr Perdue.
In his first major public event since losing the 2020 election last month, President Donald Trump flew to the Peach State on Saturday to rally Republican voters for Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler.
The president’s visit came amid concerns among GOP strategists that his baseless complaints of election fraud is suppressing voter enthusiasm in the Georgia Senate battles that will determine control of the upper chamber.
During his stump speech at the rally on Sunday, Mr Trump repeated his false claim that he won Georgia. Three recounts have determined Joe Biden the victor in the state.
Mr Trump appeared to recognise that his days in the White House are numbered, saying he would “take it easy” in Florida if he must leave.
While he was there ostensibly to urge his supporters to turn out for Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler in January, Mr Trump often meandered into personal grievances about the election outcome.
As the president wrapped up his remarks he said of his political prospects: “We will never, ever surrender”.
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