Trump election claims dominate Georgia Senate debate

President Trump’s efforts to sow doubt in the 2020 presidential election took center stage Sunday night during a debate between Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and Democrat Raphael Warnock, serving as a reminder of the long shadow the president has cast over the Georgia Senate runoffs. 

Loeffler and Warnock sparred over a long list of issues during the hourlong televised debate.

Loeffler repeatedly accused Warnock of supporting “socialist” policies and seized on a host of well-worn Republican talking points to attack her Democratic opponent. 

Warnock, meanwhile, accused Loeffler of seeking to profit from her office and dragging her feet on efforts to provide legislative relief to a country roiled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

But it was Trump’s efforts to dispute the outcome of the 2020 election that dominated the conversation on Sunday. From the outset, Loeffler declined to say whether she supported the president’s claims of a so-called rigged election, though she repeatedly said that Trump had a right to seek recourse in the courts. 

“The president has the right to pursue every legal recourse to make sure this was a free and fair election in Georgia,” she said.

The questions on Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential race to President-elect Joe Biden came not only from the debate moderators, but from Warnock himself. At one point, he pressed Loeffler on whether she believes Trump lost the election. 

“My question is actually pretty simple. Yes or no, Sen. Loeffler, did Donald Trump lose the election?” Warnock asked.

“You know, President Trump has every right to use every legal recourse available,” Loeffler responded, echoing a similar line used throughout the debate.

Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the 2020 election was marred by widespread voter fraud and systemic irregularities, and he and his allies have launched multiple efforts to overturn the results. Those efforts have so far seen little success.

A recount of the vote in Georgia completed last week reaffirmed Biden as the winner and the first Democratic presidential candidate in nearly three decades to carry the Peach State.

Trump has directed his ire toward election officials in Georgia, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both of whom are Republicans. He has demanded that Kemp call a special session of the state General Assembly to overturn the election results and has also called for officials to reexamine voter signatures submitted on ballot envelopes — a process that has already been completed and cannot be repeated.

Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election has complicated the runoff campaigns of both Loeffler and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is facing Democrat Jon Ossoff in a runoff election of his own on Jan. 5.

On one hand, both Republican senators need to turn out Trump’s loyal base of supporters in the runoffs, and breaking from him on the question of the presidential election’s integrity could be seen by his most ardent backers as a sign of disloyalty. 

But Republicans are also hoping to make the argument that controlling the Senate majority is a necessary check on Democratic power in Washington, an argument that at least somewhat acknowledges that Trump will not be in the White House next year. 

Republicans are also scrambling to counter calls by two high-profile Trump backers to boycott the Senate runoffs to protest the presidential election process.

The two runoffs in Georgia are crucial to determining which party will have a majority vote in the Senate in 2021 and beyond. Republicans are currently slated to enter the new year with 50 seats in the upper chamber, while Democrats have 48.

If Democrats are able to oust both Loeffler and Perdue in the runoffs, it would give them a controlling vote in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote after she takes office. 

Loeffler repeatedly sought to convince voters to retain the Republican Senate majority on Sunday, while declining to discuss which party will control the White House next year.

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

Tags 2020 election Brian Kemp David Perdue Donald Trump Georgia politics Georgia Senate debate Georgia Senate runoff Joe Biden Jon Ossoff Kelly Loeffler Raphael Warnock

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