ATLANTA – The two crucial Senate tournaments in Georgia had their biggest moment yet on Sunday – the first, and perhaps the only, debate of the campaign. But the night was defined by a striking split screen.
One hour of televised debate was allotted for candidates in one race, Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Democrat Raphael Warnock, and a separate hour of debate was allotted for candidates of the other race, Senator David Perdue (R- GA) and Democrat Jon Ossoff.
During their hour, Loeffler (R-GA) and Warnock traded brutal attacks that underscored just how intense this crucial competition for Senate control has become.
Loeffler has called his opponent “radical liberal Raphael Warnock” no less than 10 times, as if the GOP branding was his legal name. And Warnock, along with the moderators, pressured Loeffler over President Trump’s refusal to concede the election, and his baseless claims that Georgia’s electoral system was rigged – forcing Trump’s staunch ally to resort repeatedly to uncomfortable canned responses to avoid the reality that Joe Biden won fairly. and square.
In the other hour, however, there was no resentful exchange of beards between Ossoff and Perdue, nor pressing questions for the candidates. There was just Ossoff, standing next to an empty podium where Perdue would have been, if the incumbent hadn’t completely skipped the debate.
So far, candidates from each party in both rounds of voting have campaigned as roommates, appearing together during campaign stoppages and fundraisers, and sharing much the same political platforms and the same attacks against their opponents. Democrats must win both to gain control of the Senate. But Sunday’s debates were a precise reminder that the two races are separate, each with their own dynamics.
Perdue, first elected in 2014, edged Ossoff 1.7 percentage points in the November election and may have calculated that an appearance in a debate could do more harm than help. Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat in 2019 and has never won an election before, and Warnock, a first-time candidate as well, decided to step aside after a crowded general election in which they were the top two .
As a result, the Warnock-Loeffler debate focused on domestic issues for both rounds, but both candidates also pleaded the hard lines of attack that defined their race, in particular.
Loeffler was like the offensive commercials that dominate Georgian airwaves come to life, portraying Warnock as a radical socialist who hates the police and does not respect the military who would “buffer” a far-left agenda in the Senate. And she sought to undermine his credibility as a religious leader by accusing him of using the Bible as justification for nefarious purposes.
Warnock, meanwhile, echoed his camp’s ubiquitous lines of attack, portraying Loeffler as a purely self-serving paragon of wealth, out of touch with ordinary Georgians, who opposed relief from COVID-19 while offloading his stocks. after being informed of the spread early. of the coronavirus.
“She spent the first 10 months of her tenure thinking about herself,” Warnock said at one point. “She was appointed, the Georgian people were disappointed.”
But the most salient moments of the debate came when Loeffler was asked about Trump and the 2020 election. She was asked twice if she acknowledged that Trump lost the election, and she was also asked if the president was wrong to say last night at a rally in Georgia that Gov. Brian Kemp – who appointed Loeffler to headquarters – should be awarded because he presided over an election allegedly stolen from Trump.
“The president has the right to exercise all legal remedies,” Loeffler said, in one form or another, at least four times. From the debate stage, she paused before airing the conspiracies that Trump had put forward on Saturday from the rally stage, but said “it is very clear that there were problems in this election”, without naming anything in particular.
And when it came to the question of whether she acknowledged that the very fact that the Senate was at stake in this second round necessarily means that Biden had won the election, she answered without really answering. “What is at stake is the Senate majority,” Loeffler said.
The Republican has also bristled under control of her stock trading record in the early months of the pandemic. In March, The daily beast reported that Loeffler unloaded shares worth millions of dollars after a private briefing by senators on the coronavirus in January. When asked if she thinks senators should be banned from owning stock, Loeffler said “what is at stake in this election is the American dream,” and suggested that media criticism of her record of “left” was an affront to this American dream.
Loeffler’s refusal to answer questions about Trump – whose support will be critical to his chances in the second round – among other things made Warnock’s own breakouts look minor in comparison. But he also dodged key questions put to him about what he would do if elected with a Democratic majority in the Senate. When asked if he supports expanding the size of the United States Supreme Court, an idea that has gained momentum this year in the party’s left wing, Warnock did not respond. saying, “I’m really not focused on this.”
If the debate between Warnock and Loeffler was a sometimes messy and bitter exchange of attacks, Ossoff’s Hour amounted to free and undisputed airtime for the 33-year-old Democrat defying Perdue.
Georgia Democrats believe the last meeting of the two candidates, before the November election, scared the incumbent president. During their October debate, Ossoff launched lightning attacks, focusing in particular on stock trading in Perdue’s coronavirus and going so far as to call the senator a “crook” across the way. And Ossoff, who is Jewish, lambasted Perdue for attack ads by outside GOP groups, in which his nose was altered to appear larger.
Alone on the debate stage on Sunday, Ossoff resurfaced many of those same attacks, and took advantage of his opponent’s absence to say he was afraid of tough questions about his stock market activity and to say he was felt “authorized” for Georgian votes and therefore had not done so. I don’t need to introduce yourself.
“People expect me to come to a debate like this and criticize David Perdue,” Ossoff said in his closing speech. “But it shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement for the senior US Senator from Georgia to believe that he shouldn’t have to debate at a time like this in our history.”
But Ossoff has faced his own questions from a panel of Georgian journalists on a range of topics, from the wisdom of imposing further restrictions on COVID-19 to his scorching attacks on Perdue’s stock market activity .
Asked by the moderator, local Fox presenter Russ Spencer, if Ossoff “conceded the fact” that Perdue had been cleared by federal authorities, for example, the Democrat said no. While Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice investigators shut down investigations into Perdue’s transactions without laying charges, Perdue claimed in advertisements that he had been “exonerated”, which did not It’s not a statement that the federal agencies involved case.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that David Perdue presented that a federal agency cleared him,” Ossoff said. “What I am seeing is that he has not yet been charged.”
For 30 minutes, Ossoff had ample free rein to define the race on his terms and resume his case against Perdue in front of perhaps his biggest audience to date. If he had a question for Perdue, Ossoff said that would be why he was opposing $ 1,200 stimulus checks as part of coronavirus relief. And he clearly expressed his point of view on the national issues of the two towers.
“If we don’t win these two Senate races,” he said, Republicans “will try to do to the Biden-Harris administration what they tried to do to President Obama.”
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