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Three candidates, one no-show and many questions avoided in debates in Georgia

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.”

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