Loeffler did not explicitly say that she believes the presidential election was rigged — as the President has falsely claimed — when pressed during the debate, but did say “it’s very clear that there were issues in this election,” while Warnock criticized the Republican senator over her rhetoric, saying that she “continues to cast doubt on an American democratic election.”
During the debate, Loeffler said Trump has “every right to every legal recourse,” when asked if she stands by the President’s baseless narrative about the election, but then attempted to turn attention to her own Senate race.
“The President was also clear that Georgians need to come out and vote for David Perdue and myself because of what’s at stake,” she said, referencing Trump’s campaign rally Saturday night in the state stumping for both Republicans in the runoff.
An intense national spotlight is focused on the race and the stakes are high since its outcome, along with the result of a second Georgia runoff in January between Perdue and 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.
The two Senate races advanced to a January runoff after none of the candidates cleared a 50% vote threshold in November to win outright.
On Saturday night, Trump stumped for Loeffler and Perdue at a Valdosta, Georgia, rally, but once again falsely claimed he won the state and warned without evidence that the runoffs in January could be rigged. CNN has previously reported that Republicans were concerned that Trump could depress turnout among his base if he continued to rail against Georgia’s election system. At one point, Trump welcomed Loeffler and Perdue to the stage for very brief remarks at the rally, but both senators were immediately interrupted with chants of “Stop the Steal” and “Fight for Trump.”
“In a year when the election of Georgia’s two Senators will determine control of the U.S. Senate, it is vital that voters have this opportunity to hear from all the candidates,” Atlanta Press Club Chair Marylynn Ryan said in a statement. “These debates are an important public service that the Atlanta Press Club is proud to offer to Georgians.”
Ossoff still appeared before the press club earlier Sunday evening, while Perdue was represented by an empty podium. Ossoff fielded questions about his response to the coronavirus pandemic and used the platform to call out Perdue’s absence.
“The reason that our country has lagged the entire world at the efficacy of our response to this virus, the reason that we are losing thousands of people per day to this virus is because of the arrogance of politicians like David Perdue,” Ossoff said Sunday night. “So arrogant that he disregarded public health expertise, and so arrogant that he’s not with us here today to answer questions.”
WAGA-TV/Fox5 anchor Russ Spencer will act as a moderator for the Loeffler-Warnock debate, working alongside a slate of panelists.
Loeffler has unleashed an onslaught against Warnock, trying to portray her Democratic opponent and the 15-year leader of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic church in Atlanta as an anti-police Marxist who will destroy America.
Warnock, in turn, has said that Loeffler wants to divide Georgia, and distract from her opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the health care insurance it provides millions of people in the middle of a pandemic.
At the age of 35, Warnock was chosen in 2005 to lead Ebenezer Baptist Church, and has since taken on issues in Georgia like overhauling the criminal justice code, and expanding voter registration and Medicaid.
Loeffler has described the work ethic she learned on her family’s Illinois farm, becoming the first in her family to graduate from college and her work for the Intercontinental Exchange, the commodities and financial exchange company.
She then married Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange and bought a co-ownership in the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. At the end of 2019, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to fill the seat left by the retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson.
This story has been updated with additional developments Sunday.
CNN’s Alex Rogers, Caroline Kenny, Donald Judd, Kristen Holmes and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.