At a campaign stop in Macon, Ga., last week, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler cast her lot with not just President Donald Trump but congressional Democrats in backing calls for $2,000 stimulus checks instead of the $600 that’s now on its way to Americans’ savings accounts under the coronavirus relief plan passed by Congress, and signed by Trump after a delay, in December.
After congressional Republicans negotiated Democrats — several of whom have advocated that $2,000 payouts go out monthly till the pandemic is arrested — down to the $600 level, Trump suddenly pulled his support, surprising even close allies with a video posted on Twitter a few days before Christmas. That left some Americans, particularly those without steady paychecks since the COVID-19 outbreak knocked the economy off its feet, uncertain of their capacity to pay the rent or put food on the table.
Loeffler, whom polls show narrowly trailing in her special runoff election against Democrat Raphael Warnock, the pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, didn’t speak much about the checks as she campaigned Saturday.
Having previously trumpeted on the trail and in political ads the $600 checks, until Trump came out against them, Loeffler switched gears to voice support for Trump’s call for larger checks, even as Mitch McConnell derided them as “socialism for the rich.”
Said Loeffler, appointed against Trump’s wishes to her Senate seat just more than a year ago: “I’ve stood with our president 100% of the time, and I’m with him in the fight to deliver $2,000 relief checks to the American people.”
Meanwhile, Perdue, a staunch Trump supporter who is in a runoff with Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary film producer, has tweeted his support for increasing the value of the checks, saying, “I support this push for $2,000 in direct relief checks to the American people.”
Perdue also trails his Democratic challenger narrowly in recent polls.
Perdue’s stance on the stimulus checks, let alone the numbers written on them, has evolved more dramatically than Loeffler’s as the GOP pair seek to persuade undecided Georgia voters to leave them in the Senate. Perdue was quoted in a May story in the Marietta Daily Journal as explaining how he had staked out a “controversial position” in opposition to the $1,200 stimulus checks sent out to most Americans in those early months of coronavirus pandemic.
Now, with the early voting period finished and the runoff elections just three days away, the controversial issue of how to handle support for the stimulus checks is an example of the difficulty the candidates are facing in trying to carry in such swing counties as Fayette, 27 miles outside of Atlanta.
Fayette County voters in November chose Trump over Joe Biden by a margin of 37,952 to 33,065, and Perdue by 38,403 to Ossoff’s 31,477. However, the majority-Republican county voted in favor of the Democrat Warnock over Loeffler by 22,840 to 21,759. Loeffler’s seat was subject to a special election, with more than 20 candidates, as she holds a seat vacated by Republican Johnny Isakson in 2019 and has yet to win outright election to it.
The implications for this Senate race to the incoming Biden administration cannot be overstated, with the Senate currently divided 50-48 in favor of the Republicans. A Democratic sweep of the runoffs would put tie-breaking votes on the shoulders of Vice President–elect Kamala Harris as president of the chamber.
Trump has added further complexity to the runoffs by alienating some traditional Republicans with this intraparty attacks on Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Trump endorsed Kemp in his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, but last week Trump abruptly called for Kemp’s resignation, calling him an “obstructionist” and attacking him for refusing to call Trump the winner of the presidential race in Georgia, which Biden won by about 12,000 votes.
The Republican runoff candidates have not publicly backed or distanced themselves from the Trump call on Kemp to step down, though both Loeffler and Perdue echoed Trump’s call for Raffensperger’s resignation in the days immediately after Election Day in November.
Voicing support for the $2,000 stimulus checks is one way for Loeffler and Perdue to remain on the good side of Trump supporters heading toward Tuesday’s voting.
From the archives (Dec. 5): Trump campaigned for Loeffler and Perdue — and himself — on Saturday night in Georgia