ATLANTA – Candidates in the special election for the U.S. Senate seat held by Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler squared off in their first debate Monday afternoon.
Loeffler faces a large field of opponents including Democrat Raphael Warnock and fellow Republican Doug Collins in a race for the seat she was appointed to 10 months ago.
The debate was being held virtually, with candidates joining by video from separate locations because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Loeffler has been running to the far right while trying to fend off the challenge from Collins, one of President Donald Trump’s most visible defenders in the U.S. House.
Last week Loeffler headlined an event with a congressional candidate from northwest Georgia who has made racist comments and expressed support for QAnon, a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy theory.
That could become a line of attack from Warnock, pastor of the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, who has largely consolidated support among Democrats.
With about 20 candidates in the race, it’s likely to be decided by a Jan. 5 runoff — required between the top two finishers if no one breaks 50% on Nov. 3.
Monday’s debate was broken into two parts, with a handful of top contenders participating in one session and other candidates relegated to a different session.
Warnock went into the debate coming off a strong fundraising quarter. In the period covering July, August and September, he brought in $12.9 million, according to campaign finance reports recently filed by the candidates.
Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman, raised about $2.2 million during the period and personally loaned her campaign another $5 million. She has loaned her campaign $20 million since the start of the race. Collins raised about $2.3 million in the quarter.
Both of Georgia’s Republican-held Senate seats are on the ballot this November. In the other race, Republican Sen. David Perdue faces Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff.
Perdue’s campaign announced Monday that a second debate between Perdue and Ossoff, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, has been postponed to Oct. 28. The in-person debate was rescheduled because Perdue has been called back to Washington, Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry said in a statement. A mostly procedural vote on a GOP-backed renewal of Paycheck Protection Program business subsidies, which is unlikely to advance, has been set for Tuesday.
“It’s convenient for Senator Perdue that he won’t have to take hard questions tomorrow night about his ability to represent all Georgians,” Ossoff communications director Miryam Lipper said in a statement Monday.
Voting is under way in Georgia, and people are voting early in record numbers. According to a news release from Georgia’s secretary of state, more than 1,482,000 ballots had been cast by Sunday, including mail ballots and early in-person voting. During a similar period in 2016, a little over 578,000 ballots were cast.