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Republican Senator Loeffler to debate Democratic challenger Warnock in Georgia December 6

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler has agreed to debate Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock in December, her spokesman said Tuesday, setting up a face-off in one of a pair of runoff races that will decide control of the Senate.

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Warnock had challenged Loeffler to meet him in three televised debates ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff election. She accepted the debate at the Atlanta Press Club on Dec. 6, her communications director Stephen Lawson said in an email.

Both of Georgia’s Senate seats are in play in the January runoff, which was triggered by state law after no candidate reached 50% in the first round of voting Nov. 3.

The Warnock-Loeffler matchup and the other race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff will determine whether Republicans or Democrats lead the U.S. Senate when Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

Democrats need to win both seats to split the Senate 50-50 and give Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator for two decades, but Democratic President-elect Joe Biden narrowly leads President Donald Trump there by 49.5% to 49.2% in the recent presidential election. A recount is underway.

Ossoff on Monday urged Perdue to join him in six debates before the voting in January. But Perdue has so far declined, and the Atlanta Press Club said the senator would be represented by an empty podium on Dec 6.

Ossoff and Perdue met in two debates before the first round of voting on Nov. 3.

Loeffler and Warnock have already debated each other once, in October, along with Republican Representative Doug Collins and three others who participated in the crowded first round of their race.

Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman, was appointed to her seat in the conservative-leaning state a year ago after the former occupant retired. She trailed Warnock, a Black Baptist preacher, in the Nov. 3 results, when Warnock got 32.9% to Loeffler’s 25.9% and Collins’ 19.95%.

Ossoff and Warnock appeared together on Sunday for the first time in the runoff campaign, urging voters to head back to the polls just two months after the presidential election. They are planning to appear together at another campaign rally on Thursday.

Warnock and Ossoff’s campaigns are emphasizing healthcare, COVID-19 relief and Republicans’ response to the pandemic. Perdue and Loeffler’s campaigns meanwhile accuse Warnock and Ossoff of pursuing “socialist” policies on climate change and healthcare.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Lincoln Feast.