Georgia Republican Senator Loeffler dodges questions on Trump throughout debate with challenger Warnock

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump fights for Republican Senators Perdue and Loeffler during a rally in Valdosta, Georgia

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By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler danced in a debate with her Democratic challenger Sunday ahead of two runoff elections in Georgia that will rule over control of the U.S. Senate over whether or not President Donald Trump will run the election on Jan. November has lost.

Speaking to Rev. Raphael Warnock during a period of debate in Atlanta, Loeffler repeatedly described the political newcomer as “radically liberal,” while Warnock criticized Loeffler’s stock trading after the wealthy businesswoman was named senator a year ago. Each criticized the other’s interpretation of the Christian faith.

As the debate began, Loeffler avoided asking whether she would agree with Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the election had been “rigged” last month. Trump did not concede Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, but instead insisted without evidence that the outcome was due to widespread fraud, alleging state and federal officials have repeatedly refused.

“It is crucial that the Georgians trust our electoral process and that the president has every right to any legal recourse,” said Loeffler.

Warnock countered by asking why Loeffler “continues to raise doubts about a democratic election in the US. It is time to put this behind us”.

Georgia hasn’t elected a US Democratic Senator in 20 years, but Biden’s narrow victory over Trump has given Democrats hope. However, they face an uphill battle and must win both races to deny Republicans a Senate majority that could block much of Biden’s legislative agenda.

Republicans train much of their fire on Warnock, the black senior church pastor in Atlanta, where civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.

“My opponent, the radical-liberal Raphael Warnock, is a socialist,” said Loeffler, an attack she voiced repeatedly during the debate. She went through a litany of attacks she made in her campaign ads portraying Warnock as an anti-police, anti-Israel, “Marxist” tied to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and a sermon by the Black Chicago pastor declared: “Damn America!”

Warnock said Loeffler tried to misrepresent him.

“I believe in the free enterprise system,” he said.

He accused Loeffler of profiting inappropriately by “dumping millions of dollars in stocks” shortly after he became senator and early in the coronavirus outbreak before the stock market was turned down.

“I agree that she wants to make money. I just think you shouldn’t use the seat of the people to get rich. You should use the seat of the people to represent the people,” Warnock said.

The Justice Department completed an investigation earlier this year into the stock deals Loeffler conducted along with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Jim Inhofe, just before reporting on the coronavirus-related market turmoil, media reported. All three have denied wrongdoing.

Loeffler was named their seat a year ago after its former resident retired. She followed Warnock in their complicated 20 contest on November 3rd when Warnock got 32.9% and Loeffler 25.9%.

RUNOFFS, RECRIMINATIONS

Senator David Perdue, the other Georgia Republican who battled for his seat on Jan. 5, declined to debate Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff again, leaving his rival alone on stage on Sunday.

Ossoff said Perdue, as a senator, may not want to talk about his frequent stock deals. Last summer the Justice Department closed an investigation into Perdue’s trading in shares in a financial company without charge, the New York Times reported last month.

“Senator Perdue may not feel that he can conduct himself in a debate, or may be concerned that he might incriminate himself in a debate that I believe will both disqualify a US Senator seeking re-election.” Said Ossoff.

Perdue’s campaign revealed that he doesn’t manage his stock portfolio on a daily basis.

The way to the drains poses challenges for both sides. Biden showed that a Democrat could win in the historically conservative state by beating Trump there by 49.5% to 49.3% in last month’s elections.

This result has led to accusations among Republicans. Trump blew up Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, and Loeffler and Perdue called for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to step down.

At a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, Saturday night, Trump urged the crowd to vote for Republicans in the Senate runoff, despite his baseless allegations of significant election fraud in the state. He also reiterated his allegations of fraud in the national elections that cost him the White House.

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