On Sunday night, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) faced off against Democrat Raphael Warnock while Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) refused to debate Jon Ossoff. Loeffler successfully branded Warnock a “radical liberal,” while Ossoff may have actually lost in a debate against himself.
Here are five things to know about the Georgia Senate runoff debates.
1. Perdue wasn’t there, but Ossoff lost, anyway.
Ossoff repeatedly made hay about the fact that Perdue did not take the time to debate him. The Democrat called the senator a “coward” and tweeted a chicken emoji after the debate. Yet Perdue’s campaign argued that Ossoff lost the debate even though the only candidate he faced was himself.
“Tonight we witnessed something we didn’t know was possible: a candidate lost a debate against himself. An epic failure,” campaign manager Ben Fry told The Hill.
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“Jon Ossoff came out in support of blanket amnesty, a national lockdown, and made clear he doesn’t want to ‘get bogged down in the details’ about additional COVID relief,” Fry explained. “These are serious times and Jon Ossoff just showed how unserious–and unprepared–he really is. Georgians will reject Jon Ossoff once again next month.”
Perdue’s campaign explained that the candidate would not face Ossoff in the debate because most Georgians already voted against the Democrat’s agenda.
“The runoff in Georgia is an extension of the November 3rd general election, where 52 percent of Georgians voted against Jon Ossoff and his radical agenda,” Fry told CNN. “Perdue had a commanding first place win, outpacing Ossoff by over 85,000 votes — in nearly every other state, Perdue would have been re-elected already.”
While refusing to debate is usually a bad look, Perdue gave Ossoff the chance to crash and burn all on his own.
2. Loeffler hits Warnock on his radical statements
Loeffler nailed Warnock, a reverend who has called on America to “repent for its worship of whiteness,” who has celebrated Jeremiah Wright — the infamous “God damn America” pastor of former President Barack Obama’s church — and who served as assistant pastor at a church that hosted Fidel Castro in 1991.
“I’m not going to be lectured by someone that uses the Bible to justify abortion, to attack our men and women in the military,” Loeffler began. “What’s happening here is someone who will not own up to their own record of division. He has called on Americans to repent for their worship of whiteness. That’s divisive. That’s hurtful. He’s celebrated Jeremiah Wright, anti-Semite. He’s actually called Israel an ‘apartheid state.’ That is wrong for America, and I’m going to continue to make sure Georgians understand that that is him in his own words.”
Some of Warnock’s previous statements are more defensible than others. For instance, while Warnock did preach that “nobody can serve God and the military,” in context he was discussing Matthew 6:24, which states that “no one can serve two masters. … You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Terrence Clark, a communications director for Warnock’s campaign, explained that “Reverend Warnock was speaking about the need to commit to moral life before pursuing other priorities.”
Yet many of Warnock’s statements are indeed fair game to attack. When asked whether “God endorses the millions of abortions we’ve had in this country since Roe v. Wade?” Warnock said, “I think the human agency and freedom is consistent with my view as a minister.”
During the debate, Warnock defended his position in support of legal abortion. “The question is: whose decision is it? And I happen to think that a patient’s room is too small a place for a woman, her doctor, and the U.S. Government. I think that’s too many people in the room,” he said.
In 2016, Warnock infamously preached that “America needs to repent for its worship of whiteness,” which he directly tied to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He argued that American society has “towers of domination,” institutional racism. This sermon arguably reflects the destructive impact of Marxist critical race theory in Warnock’s thinking.
3. Warnock dodges on packing the Supreme Court
Raphael Warnock did not say whether or not he would support packing the U.S. Supreme Court, adding seats to fundamentally shift the institution to the Left.
A moderator pressed Warnock, a reverend, on the issue.
“I’m really not focused on it, and I think that, too often, the politics in Washington has been about the politicians,” the reverend responded.
Warnock suggested that the Supreme Court was not an issue in Georgia.
“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, but they are wondering when in the world are they gonna get some COVID-19 relief,” he added.
4. COVID-19 relief
Both Perdue and Loeffler have made it clear they support passing more COVID-19 relief for Georgians. Senate Democrats have repeatedly blocked a COVID-19 stimulus bill.
On Monday morning, both senators released a statement urging relief.
“When COVID-19 hit, we both supported bipartisan relief and delivered over $47 billion in direct federal aid to our state, including more than $14.7 billion in relief to 174,000 small businesses, saving 1.5 million jobs. Today, we are fighting to get more targeted relief to the people of Georgia,” the senators insisted.
Both Perdue and Loeffler initially opposed relief measures but they ended up voting for the stimulus bills and vocally supporting more aid. Ossoff and Warnock have attacked the initial opposition.
“We should immediately reallocate the remaining CARES funding, provide another round of PPP to our struggling small businesses and extend critical relief through the end of the year so every family can make ends meet,” Perdue and Loeffler urged in the statement. “While it’s encouraging to see some of our Democrat colleagues come back to the negotiating table after their previously outlandish demands that had nothing to do with combatting COVID, let’s not forget that every single Senate Democrat blocked this kind of additional relief just weeks ago.”
“It’s time to get more relief to the people of Georgia right now and Senate Democrats are the only ones standing in the way of making that a reality,” he senators concluded.
5. Selling stock
During their respective debates, Ossoff and Warnock attacked Perdue and Loeffler for selling stocks after a congressional briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ossoff argued that Perdue skipped out on the debate because “he’s afraid he may incriminate himself in this debate.” He mentioned that Perdue bought $260,000 in Pfizer stock between February 26 and February 28, shortly after a coronavirus congressional briefing that Perdue’s staff said the senator did not attend.
Warnock, for his part, directed his first question to Loeffler on this issue. He repeated the story that after a private COVID-19 briefing, Loeffler “dumped millions of dollars of stock in order to protect your own investments.”
Loeffler thanked him for the question, saying that she had been “completely exonerated.”
Both the Senate Ethics Committee and the Department of Justice dropped investigations into Loeffler’s stock trades, claiming they found no evidence she violated federal law.
“Based on all the information before it, the Committee did not find evidence that your actions violated federal law, Senate Rules or standards of conduct,” Deborah Sue Mayer, the Ethics Committee’s chief counsel and staff director, wrote in a letter. “Accordingly, consistent with its precedent, the Committee has dismissed the matter.”
The trades Perdue and Loeffler engaged in may look fishy, but there is no evidence they broke the law by trading on insider information.
Ossoff and Warnock are extreme candidates, but Stacey Abrams has announced that hundreds of thousands of Georgians have requested absentee ballots for the runoff election, suggesting that these Democrats will give the Republican senators a run for their money.
These runoff elections will likely determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, so Georgians have an opportunity to weaken Joe Biden (who will likely become president in January, despite Trump’s challenging of the election results). Even if Trump somehow prevails in the election, it will be important to keep the Senate in Republican hands to continue the president’s restoration of the federal judiciary.