Loeffler, Warnock face off in Georgia Senate debate ahead of runoff election

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and her Democratic opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock are set to face off in a debate on Sunday ahead of a pivotal runoff election next month.

(CNN) — Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and her Democratic opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock are set to face off in a debate on Sunday ahead of a pivotal runoff election next month.

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 GOP Sen. David 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.

The Senate races have been overshadowed at times by Georgia’s presidential election results, where President-elect Joe Biden turned the state blue for the first time in 28 years. Trump has blamelessly alleged voter fraud in the state and attacked statewide officials including Republicans Gov. Brian Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger.

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.”

Loeffler and Warnock have confirmed their participation in Sunday’s debate, while Ossoff confirmed he would participate in an earlier debate the same day, but Perdue declined, according to the Atlanta Press Club.

The Press Club has announced plans to proceed with the earlier event with an empty podium set up to represent Perdue.

“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.”

WAGA-TV/Fox5 Anchor Russ Spencer will act as a moderator, 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.