The race for a hotly contested U.S. Senate seat in Georgia kicked up a notch last week with the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and calls for a Democratic candidate to drop out in favor of the frontrunner.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Atlanta businesswoman appointed to hold retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat until the Nov. 3 special election, released an ad Friday claiming she was “the first senator in America” to back President Donald Trump’s push to nominate a new justice ahead of the upcoming election.
“Our nation desperately needs another pro-life justice who will uphold the Constitution and defend conservative values,” Loeffler said.
The ad also takes aim at her Democratic competitor, Rev. Raphael Warnock, who has signaled he would vote against Trump’s nominee if he were to win the election outright on Nov. 3 – a tall order given the 50% vote threshold any of the 21 candidates in the race will need to cross.
“If that is the case and I can win outright on Nov. 3, the vote from the senator in Georgia might be the difference between setting an entire generation under an ideologue on the court or giving the American people a chance to weigh in,” Warnock said in an interview.
And U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, the Republican from Gainesville who has bludgeoned Loeffler with campaign attacks for months, stirred controversy by criticizing Ginsburg’s court opinions on abortion within hours after her death on Sept. 18.
“RIP to the more than 30 million innocent babies that have been murdered during the decades that Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended pro-abortion laws,” Collins wrote on Twitter.
Ginsburg’s death has catapulted the race for Loeffler’s seat even further into the national spotlight, given the victor could not only tip the balance between conservative and liberal justices on the nation’s highest court, but also decide which party holds a majority in the Senate.
Recent polls have shown Loeffler and Collins running neck-and-neck in the low to mid-20% range, with Warnock creeping up close to them within a few percentage points as his profile elevates with new ads, support from sports figures and his potential influence on the Supreme Court nominee.
It’s for that reason Democratic leaders in Georgia like former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams have renewed calls for candidate Matt Liberman to drop out and unify support for one Democratic candidate in the free-for-all race, in which candidates from all parties will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.
But Lieberman, a health-care consultant and former educator who is the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, has signaled he does not intend to exit the race due to the large number of undecided voters who might break his way on Election Day.
“It’s been a tight race the whole time,” Lieberman said in a recent interview. “Obviously, [Warnock] has every advantage and he should have pulled away, but he hasn’t.”
Meanwhile, Loeffler drew attention last week for a pair of ads she released calling herself “more conservative” than the 5th-century warlord Attila the Hun. The ads marked the latest move in the fight between Collins and Loeffler to win the title of most conservative candidate as they seek to woo Republican voters.
“The liberal snowflakes of the world melted when they found out that conservative businesswoman Kelly Loeffler was to the right of Attila the Hun,” said Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson. “Now that we’re releasing a second ad highlighting Kelly’s pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump values, we assume they will probably evaporate.”
In recent months, Loeffler has filed a steady stream of legislation in the Senate focused on immigration enforcement, punishing violent protesters, protecting funds for police agencies and gun-ownership rights. She has also criticized the Black Lives Matter protest movement as she seeks to solidify her image as a pro-law enforcement candidate.
Collins, meanwhile, has long touted his background as a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain and the son of a Georgia state trooper, emphasizing his law-and-order roots, support for gun-ownership rights and opposition to abortion.
He has also begun firing shots at Warnock, who has largely escaped criticism from Republican contenders in the race as they batter each other. Collins highlighted a recent segment by Fox News host Tucker Carlson that points outs comments Warnock made criticizing police officers while preaching at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he presides as senior pastor.
“Tucker Carlson exposed the hatred for our police from Stacey Abrams’ handpicked candidate for Senate, Mr. Warnock,” Collins said on Twitter. “In the Senate, I’ll continue to back the blue.”
While the Fox News segment featured comments from 2015 describing certain officers as “thugs”, Warnock in a recent interview said he supports officers overall but would vote in the Senate for uniform use-of-force-standards, abolishing qualified immunity and creating a third-party independent body to investigate officer-involved fatal encounters.
“We have got to have public policy that centers on the humanity of black people,” Warnock said. “Black people don’t want more than anyone else. We just want equal treatment under the law.”
Loeffler has made support for law enforcement central to her campaign, capitalizing on broad negative reaction from many conservative voters over instances of violence and vandalism seen during protests against police brutality and racial injustice since June.
She particularly has taken strong stances against calls from some advocates and lawmakers to reduce funding for police departments, going so far as to introduce legislation that would yank federal dollars from cities that shrink their police budgets.
“For months, the radical Left’s ‘defund the police’ movement has promoted violence, chaos and anarchy in cities across our country, while villainizing and attacking the brave men and women in law enforcement who risk their lives to keep us safe,” Loeffler said this month.
As Loeffler and Collins trade blows, Warnock has sought to elevate health care as among the most important issues in the race. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened health-care inequality in communities and acts as proof of the need for expanded access to Medicare and universal insurance coverage, Warnock has said.
“We don’t suffer from a lack of resources,” Warnock said. “We suffer from a lack of political will and moral imagination.”
On the health-care front, Loeffler has focused much of her early activities in the Senate on efforts to block federal funds from groups that provide abortions like Planned Parenthood and to boost access to health-care services for military veterans.
Collins, who has frequently expressed opposition to the Affordable Care Act, aligns with Loeffler and the prevailing Republican stance that favors expanding options for securing health insurance with less government influence on the marketplace.
“Even if you thought it was a good idea to start with, it’s not being funded,” Collins said recently of the Affordable Care Act. “We’ve got to get back to a system that protects pre-existing conditions.”
Amid the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate race is steaming for the finish line with less than 40 days until the special election. A runoff will be held in January if none of the 21 candidates including Loeffler can win more than 50% of the vote.
In their own words, he is how Loeffler, Collins and Warnock stand on some key issues:
On health insurance and the Affordable Care Act:
LOEFFLER: “I believe the solution [to health care costs] is not a government-run system that would get rid of employer-provided insurance, shutter our hospitals and raise taxes on the middle class.”
COLLINS: “[The Affordable Care Act] has basically become the anchor that floats off the back of the boat, slowing everything down and causing problems.”
WARNOCK: “[Universal health care] is for me a human right and it is certainly something that the richest nation in the world can and should provide for all its citizens.”
On the impacts of COVID-19 and the continuing economic recovery:
LOEFFLER: “The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, and the federal response has been in full force to help provide relief.”
COLLINS: “Georgia in particular is an example for other parts of the country to say we can get back out of this and have a get-well mentality instead of a get-sick mentality.”
WARNOCK: “I think we have to remind people that our response is out of love and not out of fear. It is a way of loving your neighbor as you love yourself. And I think we ought to embody that in public policy.”
On law enforcement and police reforms amid nationwide protests:
LOEFFLER: “American cities, businesses and livelihoods are being destroyed as a result of violent rioters and looters. Enough is enough. The violence must stop, and it’s time to hold these criminals and vandals accountable.”
COLLINS: “The training aspect is something that’s more prevalent that we need to look at, at all levels of law enforcement. There are always going to be those moments … when you don’t know what you’re walking into and you have to make a life-or-death decision.”
WARNOCK: “Black people are dying. There’s a human toll that I think we cannot lose sight of in all of this.”
On immigration reform, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and border protection:
LOEFFLER: “For years under the Obama administration, our Southern border was left exposed, incentivizing the flow of illegal immigrants and illicit drugs into our country. President Donald Trump has taken swift action to reverse this trend and prioritized building the border wall to protect Americans and keep our nation safe.”
COLLINS: “I think there’s ways we could fix [DACA] if we could have a more honest conversation.”
WARNOCK: “People need a dignified path to citizenship. What I would abolish is the dehumanization of people.”