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Georgia GOP Sen. Loeffler again refuses to say Trump lost the election

Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a campaign rally
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) speaks during a campaign rally in March in Marietta, Ga.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler repeatedly refused to acknowledge that President Trump lost the election during a debate Sunday with her Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, ahead of twin Georgia runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate.

Asked specifically about President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia and whether she agreed with Trump’s unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud, Loeffler sidestepped the matter.

Although Trump has lost round after round of court challenges in Georgia and other battleground states, and Georgia’s results were certified last month, Loeffler described Trump as merely pursuing “every legal recourse.”

Without any supporting evidence, she alleged irregularities in the November elections, prompting Warnock to chide her for “casting doubt” on a legitimate election in an effort to appease Trump and his supporters.

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“The people have spoken on the presidential election, and they’re waiting on their senator to be focused on them, not the person in the White House,” he said.

The exchange came as a top election official in the state accused Trump and his allies of spreading falsehoods, and leading Republicans said they worried that unfounded attacks on the election system could depress turnout in the Jan. 5 runoffs.

Republicans need Trump to boost turnout for Georgia’s Senate runoffs, but his attacks on state GOP leaders and false claim of vote fraud risk backfiring on the party.

But Loeffler steered clear of any criticism of Trump, even as she tacitly acknowledged his defeat. She painted her own reelection as necessary to prevent complete Democratic control in Washington.

“Everything is at stake in this election, the future of our country,” she said, warning of a range of liberal and progressive policies that a Trump administration would prevent.

More than a dozen times, Loeffler blasted “radical liberal Raphael Warnock” and hammered the pastor as a socialist who would ensure everything from a government takeover of the U.S. healthcare system to the seizure of Americans’ guns. Warnock, who is not a socialist, countered by blasting Loeffler as a self-interested, ultra-wealthy politician who “lied not only on me, but on Jesus” by misrepresenting excerpts of his sermons.

The battle between Loeffler and Warnock, and a second runoff between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, will determine which party controls the Senate at the outset of Biden’s presidency. Republicans need to retain one of Georgia’s seat for a majority. Democrats need both to make Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.

With his impassioned plea against threats to election workers, “This has to stop,” Georgia’s voting implementation manager became America’s conscience on Tuesday, echoing Joseph Welch’s historic 1954 takedown of Joe McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

The debate Sunday came a day after Trump campaigned in Georgia alongside the two senators. The president repeated his baseless claims that Biden’s victory in Georgia and nationally was due to fraud.

Georgia officials are on the cusp of completing a third count of about 5 million presidential ballots in the state, with Biden already having been officially certified as the winner despite Trump’s protests.

While Loeffler dodged inquiries about Trump’s defeat, Warnock avoided saying whether he’d support expanding the Supreme Court, a priority for some progressives. He said he was more interested in COVID-19 pandemic relief, but never answered explicitly whether he was opposed to adding justices.

On COVID-19, the rivals confirmed their confidence in a vaccine and said they’d take it. But they drew contrasts on another economic aid package. Warnock highlighted Loeffler’s criticisms earlier this year of some congressional aid. Loeffler blamed Democratic leaders for Congress’ failure to pass a new round of assistance this fall.

With Georgia’s GOP feuding since Joe Biden won there, a question looms: Can it unite to help two senators win runoffs that will decide which party runs the Senate?

Before the Loeffler-Warnock debate, Ossoff spoke next to an empty podium, blasting Perdue as a “coward” for skipping the debate.

Ossoff suggested that Perdue, whose prolific and lucrative stock trading has drawn attention during the pandemic, declined to debate because he didn’t want to “incriminate himself” over his personal financial activities, which Ossoff described as a “cartoonish abuse of power.”

“It shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement for Georgia’s senior U.S. senator to believe he shouldn’t have to debate at a moment like this in our history,” Ossoff said.

Perdue’s campaign manager responded with an email statement that said Ossoff “lost a debate against himself.” The statement did not address any details of Ossoff’s attacks on the senator.

Ossoff brushed aside a moderator’s reminder that authorities have not found any legal wrongdoing on Perdue’s part.

“His blatant abuse of his power and privilege to enrich himself is disgraceful,” Ossoff said. “He can’t defend the indefensible. ... The standard for our elected officials must be higher than merely evading prosecution.”


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