Democrats ramp up pressure on Lieberman to drop out of Georgia Senate race

Democrats have begun ramping up pressure on Georgia Democrat Matt Lieberman to drop out of the race for one of the Peach State’s two Senate seats up for grabs this year, citing concerns that he may cost the party a chance to compete for the seat in November.

Lieberman, the son of former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), has faced a flood of calls from high-profile Democrats and activist groups to suspend his campaign amid flagging poll numbers and concerns he will hurt the party’s chances at a potential pickup opportunity.

The seat is currently held by Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), who was appointed after Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) stepped down last year due to health issues. Loeffler is one of two Republicans running to finish Isakson’s term, while Lieberman and fellow Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock are competing for a chance at a runoff.

Democrats have bolstered their support for Warnock this week, pointing to surveys showing he’s competitive in the race. Warnock garnered the endorsement of former President Obama on Friday, who made a rare entry into an intraparty battle to try to buoy the reverend in the final sprint to Election Day.

Obama praised Warnock and other Democrats in an endorsement announcement on Friday, saying they “will work to get the virus under control, rebuild the economy and the middle class, and protect Americans’ health care and preexisting conditions protections from Republican assault.”

Warnock, a senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, also has the support of Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee who narrowly missed flipping Georgia’s governorship two years ago.

While Obama did not make an explicit call for Lieberman to withdraw from the race, Abrams made it crystal clear Thursday that she thinks he should step aside.

“I think that Matt may be a good person, but he is not the right candidate. I think the best result for all is for Matt to step back and realize that Rev. Warnock is the right candidate for the state of Georgia,” she said at a press conference. “We need Matt Lieberman to understand that he is not called to this moment.”

The remarks from Abrams came the same day that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted an array of Democrats pressing Lieberman to quit, with some specifically saying he does not have a chance of winning the Senate seat.

MoveOn, a progressive group that has risen in prominence in recent years, added to the pile Friday, saying Lieberman should pave the way for Warnock to consolidate Democratic support.

“MoveOn members in Georgia overwhelmingly support Reverend Warnock. It’s clear that Matt Lieberman should drop out of the race, unless he wants to be responsible for costing Democrats a victory in Georgia,” said Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn Political Action.

Lieberman appeared unfazed by the calls for him to quit, accusing national Democrats of trying to limit voters’ choices and accusing Warnock of being “beholden” to party “bosses.”

“We Democrats must be about giving the people the right to choose who will lead them, and not limiting that choice before they even have a chance to vote,” Lieberman told The Hill in a text message. “[I]’m confident that I have the best chance to defeat either of the Republicans in January when this will be decided.” 

“Georgia’s citizens are well able to decide who their next senator is going to be. They don’t need a handful of people in Washington or Atlanta making the choice for them.”

Democrats are particularly confident they can be competitive in the race to finish Isakson’s term because if no candidate gets more than 50 percent support in November — an increasingly possible scenario given GOP squabbling — then the top-two vote getters regardless of party will advance to a runoff in January.

Loeffler, who holds the seat, is facing a stiff challenge from Rep. Doug Collins (R), a vociferous ally of the White House. Democrats think that the Republican infighting is opening up a lane for Warnock to at least make it to a January runoff — but only if he can unite Democrats behind him.

Warnock has a hefty fundraising advantage, finishing out the second quarter of the year with $2.9 million in the bank compared with just over $305,000 for Lieberman. And polls show him bunched at the top with Loeffler and Collins, though Lieberman still garners enough support to possibly keep Warnock from winning a top-two finish in November.

A New York Times poll released this week showed Loeffler leading the pack with 23 percent support among likely voters, while Warnock and Collins trailed at 19 percent each. But Lieberman still got 7 percent support, a chunk that could easily become a factor in a tight race. 

“Unfortunately for Matt, he has just not shown the ability to garner the kind of support he needs or fundraise enough to win it himself. So truly it seems as if he’s acting as a spoiler. I don’t really see what he’s seeing or what his path is or what his goals are,” said a source familiar with the race. 

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, rates the race as “lean Republican.”

Tags Barack Obama Doug Collins Johnny Isakson Kelly Loeffler Matt Lieberman Raphael Warnock Stacey Abrams

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