Kelly Loeffler in debate warns Raphael Warnock will fall in line with radical Democrats

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Sen. Kelly Loeffler said Sunday that the Rev. Raphael Warnock is a “socialist” who wants to “fundamentally change” the nation and warned voters in Georgia that he will fall in line with radical elements of the Democratic Party if elected to the Senate.

“The Democrats want to fundamentally change America, and the agent of change is my opponent, radical liberal Raphael Warnock — someone that has attacked police from the pulpit, someone who has attacked our military, someone that has agreed to raise taxes on hardworking Georgians,” Ms. Loeffler said.

Mr. Warnock countered that Ms. Loeffler, the wealthiest member of Congress, has engaged in the “politics of distraction and division” as a way to pull attention away from suspicious stock trades and from her failure to stand up for “ordinary people” struggling to make ends meet.

Mr. Warnock, senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor, said Ms. Loeffler and her allies are spending millions of dollars on attack ads smearing him because “she has clearly decided that she does not have a case to be made for why she should stay in that seat.”

“I am concerned that Washington is not focused on ordinary people,” he said. “You can’t tell the difference between Washington backrooms and corporate boardrooms, and my opponent represents the worst of that kind of problem.”

Mr. Warnock said, “Kelly Loeffler is out of touch.”

The showdown at the Atlanta Press Club came as Republicans have been growing uneasy over their prospects of defending their U.S. Senate majority by winning in Georgia.

Presumed President-elect Joseph R. Biden defeated President Trump there in the Nov. 3 election, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia in 28 years.

The pivotal Jan. 5 runoff races there between Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Warnock, and Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, will determine how much wiggle room Mr. Biden will have with Congress on legislation.

The four contenders advanced to the runoff races after failing to capture 50% of the vote in the Nov. 3 election.

If Republicans successfully defend one of the seats, they will continue to call the shots in the Senate when it convenes next year. If Democrats win both races, then the resulting 50-50 partisan divide would give Democrats control of the chamber based on presumed Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris’ tiebreaking vote.

The races have gotten lost in the shuffle at times while President Trump insists the results from Georgia and other states were rigged against him.

Mr. Trump stumped on behalf of the Republican senators Saturday in Georgia and again claimed that he won the election. When Mr. Trump called Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue onto the stage, they were drowned out at times with chants of “Stop the Steal.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly accused Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans in the state of turning a blind eye to massive voting fraud.

Republicans in the state have begged the president to stop the attacks, and national Republicans say behind the scenes that Mr. Trump has made a mess of the situation.

In the debate, Ms. Loeffler refused to defend Mr. Kemp, who appointed her to the seat, and dodged direct questions over whether Mr. Trump’s fraud allegations.

“The president was also clear that Georgians need to come out and vote for David Perdue and myself because of what is at stake this election,” Ms. Loeffler said.

Ms. Loeffler said Mr. Warnock is a communist sympathizer and has used the Bible to justify attacks against the police and the military.

Mr. Warnock said he doesn’t want to defund the police and that Ms. Loeffler has taken his sermons out of context for political gain.

“Had Kelly Loeffler listened to the sermon rather than make a cheap political point, she would have not used her advantage as a U.S. senator to make millions on a pandemic while playing it down to the people she was supposed to be representing,” he said, alluding to stock trades made around the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Loeffler fired back, saying she is a Christian, a “person of deep faith” and doesn’t need to be lectured by someone who has “also used the Bible to justify abortion.”

“He’s out of step with Georgia’s values,” she said.

The debate also coincided with a surge in COVID-19 cases in Georgia and other states and the news about the diagnosis of the disease of Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Ms. Loeffler said Democrats have blocked coronavirus relief. Mr. Warnock said Ms. Loeffler blocked efforts to bolster unemployment payments and has fought to “take away people’s health care.”

Mr. Ossoff debated Sunday alongside an empty podium after Mr. Perdue refused to square off with his rival.

Mr. Ossoff said Mr. Perdue’s absence underscores his “arrogance.” He said the Republican doesn’t want to talk about the various investments he has made since the onset of the pandemic.

“My message for the people of our state, at this moment of crisis, is your senator feels entitled to your vote, your senator is refusing to answer questions and debate his opponent because he believes he shouldn’t have to,” Mr. Ossoff said. “He believes this Senate seat belongs to him. The Senate seat belongs to the people.”

Mr. Ossoff urged members of the audience to vote and reminded them that early voting starts in the state Dec. 14.

“David Perdue has been getting rich in office, and instead of taking public health expertise and guidance [on COVID-19] from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and getting that to the people and implementing it into policy, he was buying up shares in manufacturers of vaccines and medical equipment, and he is not here because he is afraid he might incriminate himself in this debate.”

Abigail Sigler, a Georgia Republican Party spokeswoman, called Mr. Ossoff a liar.

“Democrat Jon Ossoff reminded Georgians tonight that he is nothing more than an inexperienced, unaccomplished radical liberal who is running for Senate to be a rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi’s radical socialist agenda,” Ms. Sigler said.

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