Warnock has described the arc of his life from the Savannah projects to Dr. King’s pulpit in Atlanta, and recently preempted personal attacks in an ad poking fun at negative campaigning. But the Loeffler campaign hopes to undercut the Democratic candidate’s image before the runoff election on January 5, one of two that are expected to determine which party controls the Senate.
Loeffler said on Wednesday that if she and Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue win, they will “save the country.”
Loeffler and Perdue have labeled their campaigns against Warnock and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff as a grand fight between the United States and socialism, even though both of their opponents are capitalists. Loeffler’s attacks came after months of Republican party infighting between Loeffler and Georgia Rep. Doug Collins in the special election, allowing Warnock to run relatively unscathed until now.
At the campaign event in Marietta on Wednesday — her first of the runoff election — Loeffler went after Warnock for working for a church 25 years ago that invited the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro for an event, and claimed he currently holds a “Marxist ideology,” even though he is a capitalist and a Christian.
“What you need to know is in our own communities, he doesn’t care about the things we care about,” she said.
Her campaign aired an ad this week questioning whether “this” America — showing a classroom of young students saying the pledge of allegiance — will still be America “if the radical left controls the Senate.” The ad then shows images of mobs, flashes signs saying “defund the police” and plasters a quote from a 2015 sermon Warnock gave after a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, killed Michael Brown, in which he said some officers have a “gangster and thug mentality.”
Another Loeffler campaign ad attacks Warnock for honoring pastor Jeremiah Wright in 2008, even though five years earlier Wright gave a now infamous sermon defined by three words — “God damn America.” The attack is a callback to the 2008 presidential campaign, when then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama gave a pivotal speech on race relations in America after being criticized for his association with Wright.
Warnock told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Friday that he “can’t allow himself to be distracted by Kelly Loeffler” and that she “welcomes the support of bigots.”
Warnock has also 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.
“If you don’t really have an agenda for working families, I guess you have to distract working families,” said Warnock in Atlanta on Thursday. “I intend to stay focused on making sure that every Georgian has access to affordable health care, that workers share in some of the profits that they’re creating and that they are able to retire with dignity.”
He also defended his record. In response to a question regarding Wright, who has a history of anti-Semitic comments, Warnock said he has spent his “whole career standing up against bigotry, hatred, xenophobia, wherever it shows up and whoever the source is.” In response to Loeffler’s TV ad that he “hosted a rally” for Castro, Warnock said that he “had nothing to do” with inviting the late Cuban despot to speak at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City in 1995, where he then served as a youth pastor.
Warnock has reiterated throughout the campaign that he does not support defunding the police, has “deep respect” for law enforcement but wants the country to have “equal protection under the law.” He has called America “the greatest country on Earth.”
Warnock preemptively defended himself from Loeffler’s attacks last week, airing an ad joking that his opponents would say he ate pizza with a fork, hated puppies and stepped on a crack in the sidewalk.
Democrats say that Loeffler’s portrayal of Warnock misses the mark.
“Loeffler is creating her own alternative reality with these attacks,” J.B. Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, told CNN.
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.
Meanwhile 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.
But the senator has been damaged by attacks from the left and the right, particularly from Warnock and Collins, two of the many candidates who ran against her in the November race to serve the rest of Iskason’s term, which ends in 2022.
While Loeffler spent more than $20 million on her own race, Collins mocked her private jet lifestyle and charged that she profited off the pandemic, pointing to multi-million dollar stock transactions that she and her husband made after attending a senators-only briefing in January. Loeffler said she never used confidential information to make a profit, that third-party advisers bought and sold stocks on her behalf, and would divest from individual stocks.
Loeffler’s race to the right against Collins could hurt her in the runoff election. She told CNN last month that there are “no” issues on which she disagrees with President Donald Trump and boasted that she votes “100%” of the time with him. In the fall, she campaigned with Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conservative Congresswoman-elect, who promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory and made a string of bigoted comments, but whom Trump called a “future Republican star.”
“She gleefully accepts the endorsement of a candidate who traffics in the QAnon conspiracy theory that is rife with hatred and bigotry,” said Warnock on Thursday. “It is shameful.”
On Friday, Warnock released two ads attacking Loeffler: one that directly takes on Loeffler’s attacks on him and another that details the allegations that Loeffler profited off the pandemic.
This week, Loeffler and Perdue called for Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign, saying his “mismanagement” and “lack of transparency” were “unacceptable,” as Trump baselessly disputed the results of the presidential election. Raffensperger responded that he wouldn’t and said that it’s “unlikely” that illegal votes would provide a large enough margin to overturn the results. He suggested Loeffler and Perdue focus on their own races to make sure Republicans keep the Senate.
Democrats haven’t won a Senate seat in Georgia since 2000. But they’re hopeful that the changing demographics of the state, voter registration efforts led by former state Minority Stacey Abrams and Joe Biden’s showing in the state — the best for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 — could turn the state blue.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has announced that it would spend millions to register Georgians and get them to vote, including organizers, direct mail, phone, text messaging and digital efforts. The state’s registration deadline — December 7 — is in less than a month, and Georgia will start to send out absentee ballots next week.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, along with the Perdue and Loeffler campaigns, raised a combined $32 million over the past six days, according to NRSC spokesman Jesse Hunt, and will create a massive field program in the Peach State.
“Senators Perdue and Loeffler are incredible leaders for their state and the NRSC, and the entire Republican ecosystem, will work in lock-step with their teams to protect our country from being hijacked by a bunch of out of control socialists,” Hunt said.
This story has been updated with Loeffler’s and Perdue’s calls for Raffensperger to resign and his response.
CNN’s Kyung Lah contributed to this report.