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A preacher and filmmaker face two former CEOs in Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs

epaselect epa08799668 Absentee ballots are processed and verified by the Fulton County Registration and Elections Department in a large room at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 04 November 2020. The 2020 Presidential Election result remains undetermined as votes continued to be counted in several key battleground states. EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER

WASHINGTON, Jan 5 (Reuters) - A preacher and a documentary filmmaker, both Democrats, take on two Republican U.S. senators in Georgia on Tuesday in a pair of runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate for the next two years.

 

The Democrats, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, are challenging incumbent Republicans and former CEOs Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Here is some background about each of them:

 

RAPHAEL WARNOCK

Warnock is a Black Baptist preacher who holds the pulpit in Atlanta where slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Fifty-one years old, he has never held political office, but he has been an activist for civil rights and social justice for years, working on voter registration drives, taking up the cause of death row inmates and advocating for the expansion of Medicaid, the government’s health program for the poor.

Warnock’s opponent Loeffler has painted him as a radical, saying he is anti-police, anti-Israel and tied to Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright.

Warnock says Loeffler is trying to distort his campaign positions. He has said repeatedly that he is pro-Israel, backs free enterprise, does not support defunding the police, and that Wright, the previous longtime pastor of former President Barack Obama, has been misrepresented in the media.

Warnock was the 11th of 12 children born to Pentecostal ministers and grew up in public housing in Savannah, Georgia; he was the first in his family to go to college.

SENATOR KELLY LOEFFLER

Loeffler, 50, is one of the wealthiest members of Congress and a business-oriented Republican who is among President Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters since she was appointed a year ago to fill the seat of a retiring Georgia senator.

She boasts that she is more conservative than Attila the Hun, and claims a “100% Trump voting record,” although she was absent last week when the Senate voted to override Trump’s veto of a defense policy bill. She has opposed the Black Lives Matter movement, which protests police violence and racial inequality.

Loeffler grew up in a well-to-do grain farming family in Illinois and went into the financial services business, rising to be CEO of Bakkt, a cryptocurrency trading platform. Her husband Jeffrey Sprecher is chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. She co-owns the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA.

Early in the coronavirus outbreak, Loffler was criticized for selling stocks after a private January briefing on the coming pandemic. In May, the Justice Department dropped an insider trading probe against her and the Senate Ethics Committee cleared her of wrongdoing in June.

 

JON OSSOFF

Ossoff, 33, a documentary filmmaker, would be the Senate’s youngest member if elected. He grew up in Atlanta in a well-to-do family and as a teenager interned for the late Representative John Lewis, who rose to prominence during civil rights movement. Ossoff later worked six years as an aide to Georgia Democrat Representative Hank Johnson. Since 2013 Ossoff has been CEO of Insight TWI, a film production company that investigates corruption around the world.

Ossoff first entered the political fray in 2017 running for a suburban Atlanta House seat after Trump named the former Republican occupant to his cabinet. Democrats nationwide donated to Ossoff’s campaign in a long-time Republican stronghold that Trump had only won by one percentage point in 2016. But Ossoff came up short with 48 percent, losing to Republican Karen Handel.

Ossoff is now running as a mainstream Democrat with an emphasis on improving healthcare access. He favors adding a government-run “public option” to health plans without getting rid of private insurance.

SENATOR DAVID PERDUE

Running against Ossoff is Perdue, a former Fortune 500 executive who just finished his first term as a U.S. senator. Perdue often golfs with Trump and speaks with him frequently by phone. The 71-year-old has stood by Trump when other Republicans have criticized the president, and even when Trump has attacked other Republicans.

Last year, Perdue and Loeffler called on their fellow Georgia Republican Brad Raffensperger to resign his position as secretary of state, accusing him without evidence of electoral mismanagement after Trump lost the state in the November election.

Perdue was born and raised in Georgia, the child of two schoolteachers. He had a business career for decades, first as a management consultant and then as an executive; he was CEO of Reebok and Dollar General stores. He is a conservative who promised in 2014 that he would only serve two terms in the Senate.

He refused to debate Ossoff during the runoff after Ossoff previously called him a “crook” for stock trades in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. The Justice Department probed Perdue for possible insider trading, but federal investigators closed the case without any charges. (Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis)

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