CUMMING, Ga. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has made opposition to the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement a centerpiece of her effort to win conservative support in her campaign, and Thursday, supporters of the movement again pushed back.
A former state Senate candidate and one other woman shouted down Loeffler when she made a campaign appearance with U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton in a northern Atlanta suburb. The protesters began to chant “Black lives matter!” after one of them shouted questions critical of Loeffler’s description of Black Lives Matter.
Police refused to remove the women from the event, saying it was in a public park building.
The disruption capped an active week in the special election race. Loeffler is contending with an array of candidates seeking the last two years on the Senate term of now-retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the seat earlier this year, in a bid for the support of suburban women in an increasingly competitive Georgia.
Loeffler has run hard to the right after Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins jumped into the race. She is spending millions from her own fortune and that of her husband Jeffrey Sprecher, who leads the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange.
On the Democratic side, top candidates include the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who pastors the Atlanta church that Martin Luther King Jr. once led, and Matt Lieberman, the son of former senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. If no one wins a majority in the November special election, a January runoff will be held between the top two finishers, regardless of party.
Loeffler’s tangle with Black Lives Matter had already made headlines last month in connection with her co-ownership of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. Players from the Atlanta basketball team and three others emerged for games on Aug. 14 dressed in “Vote Warnock” T-shirts, supporting the Democrat after Loeffler publicly spoke out against the league’s social justice plans.
Collins has been attacking Loeffler for previous stances taken by the Dream and the WNBA, including what he says are the team’s previous joint efforts with pro-abortion group Planned Parenthood and gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Loeffler has denied knowledge of the Planned Parenthood activities.
Loeffler has responded by voicing her opposition to abortion and support for gun rights on the campaign trail and in television ads.
State House Speaker David Ralston on Thursday officially endorsed Collins while Loeffler was in his home county in the north Georgia Mountains, a move arranged by Collins to detract from Loeffler’s message.
The bigger disruption came hours later in Forsyth County, a suburban Republican bastion. The last words of Loeffler’s never-completed speech to about 60 people discussed her brush with Black Lives Matter, with her saying “I had to draw the line.”
“The left’s radical agenda of defunding the police is costing lives. It’s absolutely crazy. I’ve introduced legislation that would defund cities that defund the police,” Loeffler said. “But even more, I’ve stood up against an organization whose No. 1 goal is to defund and dismantle the police.”
That brought Nselaa Ward and Triana Arnold James to their feet to dispute Loeffler. After James loudly questioned her, both women, joined at times by James’ two daughters, began chanting “Black lives matter!” James lost a Democratic state Senate primary this year in a district west of Atlanta.
“When we’re talking about Black Lives Matter, we’re not talking about some Marxist organization. Like we said, we’re talking about Black lives, like real Black Lives. We’re talking about what’s happening to us on a daily basis,” Ward said later.
The meeting dissolved into people milling around, with some Republican activists confronting the women. James said afterward that she thought Loeffler got the message, but Repubicans called them rude and worse.
Eugene Yu, an unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate earlier this year, stood in front of James yelling “All lives matter!” at one point.
Yu said later he had come to the meeting unsure about who he was voting for, but was impressed with Loeffler’s cool demeanor. “I think I will support her,” Yu said.
This story corrects the last name of one of the demonstrators to James instead of Gaines. An earlier version of this story has been edited to correct the spelling of Forsyth.
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