Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her Democratic opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock traded sharp attacks during a debate Sunday evening ahead of a pivotal runoff election next month.
The outcome of their race, along with the result of a second Georgia runoff in January between incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue and his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, will determine control of the Senate in the new Congress.
If either Republican incumbent holds onto their seat, the GOP will be poised to maintain its Senate majority. But if both Democrats win, it would bring the balance of power to 50-50 in the upper chamber with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to step in and cast tie breaking votes.
Here are four key takeaways from the Warnock-Loeffler debate:
Loeffler dodges on Trump’s baseless election claims
Loeffler was asked repeatedly during the debate to weigh in on President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged and did not directly answer questions on several occasions.
The Georgia senator did not explicitly say that she believes the presidential election was rigged when asked, but did say “it’s very clear that there were issues in this election.”
Loeffler said Trump has “every right to every legal recourse,” when asked if she stands by the President’s baseless narrative about the election, and then attempted to turn attention to her own Senate race.
Later in the debate, Warnock asked Loeffler, “Yes or no, Sen. Loeffler: Did Donald Trump lose the presidential election?
Loeffler did not give a direct answer, instead echoing what she had said earlier by saying, “President Trump has every right to use every legal recourse available.”
Warnock criticized the Republican senator over her rhetoric, saying that she “continues to cast doubt on an American democratic election.”
Warnock sidesteps on Supreme Court answer and Covid relief cost
Warnock was questioned during the debate about what topline number for total cost he would support for a new Covid relief package in Congress, as lawmakers in Washington are searching for a deal to pass such a proposal before the end of the year.
When asked to specify a number, he sidestepped, saying, “Look, I think that we should at least make sure that whatever we do, workers are at the center of that relief.”
The Democratic challenger also sidestepped when asked whether he supports expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court to offset recent appointments to the bench from Trump and whether he thinks there should be term limits for justices.
“People aren’t asking me about the courts and whether we should expand the courts. I know that’s an interesting question for people inside the beltway to discuss,” he said in response. When pressed again, he said, “I’m really not focused on it.”
Both candidates portray opponent as out of touch with voters
The debate featured pointed lines of attack traded between the two candidates who both attempted to make the case that their opponent is out of touch with voters.
Loeffler repeatedly referred to her Democratic opponent as a “radical liberal” – unwaveringly sticking to talking points to portray Warnock as extremely far left.
“Listen, I believe in our free enterprise system,” Warnock said during the debate after Loeffler asked if he would renounce socialism and Marxism.
Warnock, for his part, targeted the GOP senator over stock transactions that have been the subject of intense scrutiny for their timing related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Addressing Loeffler, he said, “You dumped millions of dollars of stock in order to protect your own investments and then weeks later when there came an opportunity to give ordinary Georgians an extra $600 of relief, you said you saw no need and called it counterproductive.”
Loeffler fired back, “I’ve been completely exonerated. Those are lies perpetrated by the left-wing media and Democrats to distract from their radical agenda. Since I got to the Senate, I’ve worked hard to deliver relief to Georgians during this pandemic, and I’m continuing to do that.”
Loeffler and Warnock both say they would take a coronavirus vaccine
One thing the candidates could agree on was whether they would take a coronavirus vaccine with both saying that they are willing to do so when public health experts say it is safe.
“Absolutely, when our health professionals tell us that we have a vaccine that works and is effective and safe, I will take it, I will encourage the folks who listen to me, people who are in my church and in my community to take it,” Warnock said.
Loeffler also responded to the question by saying, “absolutely,” going on to say, “I could not be more proud of what we’ve done this year to deliver relief, but also get cures, vaccines and therapies that are effective. So I’m going to encourage my fellow Georgians to stay safe, to get that vaccine.”