In Georgia, Loeffler again refuses to say Trump lost

(AP) — Sen. Kelly Loeffler three times refused to acknowledge that President Donald Trump lost re-election in November, as she debated her Democratic opponent, Rev. Raphael Warnock, in a closely watched runoff election.

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. “The president has every right to every legal recourse, and that’s what’s taking place,” Loeffler said.

Her Democratic opponent Warnock blasted the senator for “casting doubt” on a legitimate election.

However, Loeffler, again and again, tacitly admitted Trump’s defeat by casting twin Jan. 5 runoffs as necessary to prevent a leftward march toward socialism. ″Everything is at stake in this election, the future of our country,” she said, alluding to the high-stakes battle for control of the Senate.

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

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

In an earlier session Sunday, Ossoff debated an empty podium, hammering Perdue as a “coward” for skipping the debate.

Ossoff suggested Perdue, the first-term Republican whose prolific stock trading has drawn attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, left his podium vacant because he didn’t want to “incriminate himself” over his personal financial activities that the challenger summed up as “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, criticizing Perdue for avoiding the debate as the coronavirus pandemic rages and Congress continues to be at loggerheads over a new round of economic relief.

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. Another Perdue aide followed up with a statement emphasizing that “the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, DOJ and the SEC … independently cleared Sen. Perdue of any and all wrongdoing.”

The runoffs have put Georgia squarely in the national political spotlight, drawing tens of millions of dollars and a flood of field workers and volunteers from around the country.

The day before Trump’s rally, Vice President Mike Pence appeared in Savannah, as former President Barack Obama headlined a virtual rally for Democrats. Biden, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992, has promised to visit before the runoff, acknowledging that the outcome will shape the legislative reach of his presidency.

Republicans have embraced the national consequences, framing Ossoff and Warnock as harbingers of a socialist takeover of Washington. Neither are socialists but the GOP wants to stoke its base for a second round of voting with the fear of Democrats controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Democrats already have protected their House majority, and the Republican argument concedes Trump’s loss to Biden, even if the president himself has refused to acknowledge his defeat.

Beyond the national stakes, Ossoff has zeroed in on Perdue’s financial activities. The Associated Press and other media have reported details of key trades Perdue made after members of Congress began receiving classified briefings about COVID-19 but while Perdue and other officials were downplaying its dangers in public. Perdue’s trades also involved companies whose business activities fall under jurisdiction of some of the senator’s committees.

Ossoff brushed aside a moderator’s reminder that Senate ethics officials and the Department of Justice 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.” Both runoffs are required under Georgia state law because no candidate reached 50% in November. Perdue fell just short of defeating Ossoff because a Libertarian candidate won a small slice of the vote, while Warnock led Loeffler in a 20-way field in which no candidate came close to 50%.

Loeffler and Perdue rallied Saturday in Valdosta with Trump, who came to the state to support the candidates despite continuing questions over whether Trump’s unproven attacks on Georgia’s presidential balloting will cause some of his Republican supporters to shy away from voting in the runoffs.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger continued to defend the integrity of the presidential election Sunday. As a Republican, Raffensperger said on ABC’s “This Week” that he wants Loeffler and Perdue to do well even though they both called for him to be removed from office, echoing Trump.

“These distractions, this disunity, it does make it more difficult,” Raffensperger said.