Why Two Georgia Senate Candidates Are Fighting About…Mao Zedong

US President Donald Trump speaks with Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and Senator David Perdue (R-GA) after arriving at Dobbins Air Reserve Base September 25, 2020, in Marietta, Geo... US President Donald Trump speaks with Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and Senator David Perdue (R-GA) after arriving at Dobbins Air Reserve Base September 25, 2020, in Marietta, Georgia. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 21, 2020 11:41 a.m.

In Georgia, the senate campaign has become anything but local as two of the leading Republican candidates trade barbs over a portrait of Mao Zedong. 

On Tuesday, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), one of the many candidates competing for the seat left open by the retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), went after Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) for an Andy Warhol painting or print of Mao hanging in her estate. The Loeffler campaign did not respond to questions about the portrait, spokesman Stephen Lawson telling TPM that “we’ve said all we’re going to say about this lie from Doug Collins’ campaign.”

Collins first brought up the Mao depiction during a Monday debate. “Do you still have that $56,000 portrait of Chairman Mao hanging in your foyer as seen on social media?” he asked.

“Seems a little hypocritical, or maybe it’s just enlightening,” he added.

Loeffler dismissed the accusation, saying that Collins had gone after everything from her hair to how she talks.

After the debate, Loeffler’s spokesperson Lawson claimed that the image was “photoshopped.”

“After being annihilated by Kelly in yesterday’s debate, I guess it’s not surprising that a photoshopped image is the best thing that Doug Collins has left in this campaign,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “When you get beat that bad, anything you do after that probably seems like a good idea.” He later told that outlet that the Loefflers do not own a Warhol portrait of Mao, leaving unclear whether the portrait exists at all, or if it’s a print of the original painting.

Collins’ campaign has set up a website, called the realkellyloeffler.com, to prove that the portrait is real and was captured in a now-removed picture posted by one of Loeffler’s family members to Facebook. 

While the vicious fight over a portrait of Mao may seem baffling to onlookers, China has been an ongoing theme in the various Georgia Senate fights. Loeffler tweeted that China must be held “ACCOUNTABLE” after President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19. Collins has been attacking Loeffler, in a rather convoluted way, for not telling her husband to oust Chinese-owned companies from the New York Stock Exchange, which his firm owns. 

Meanwhile, the other Georgia senate race between incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and challenger Democrat Jon Ossoff has also seen its fair share of China-based attacks. 

Perdue has falsely accused Ossoff of being supported by the Communist party, and, most recently, went after Ossoff for disclosing that his documentary film company took in $5,000 from a Hong Kong-based company. 

“You took money from the Chinese government that originated this virus in the first place,” Perdue said during their debate.

“That’s the swamp, folks,” Ossoff retorted. 

A few days later, Ossoff brought up then-businessman Perdue’s comments during a 2005 deposition where he said that he spent “most of his career” outsourcing jobs to Asia.

“He infamously bragged under oath that he spent most of his career outsourcing American jobs to Asia and that he’s proud of it,” Ossoff said. “And I suppose that it’s that underlying bitterness at how China has been allowed to rip off American workers and the American economy that makes it a potent political issue.”

The vague, China-related attacks from Republicans are likely following cues from President Donald Trump, who has been eager to shift the blame for the COVID-19 pandemic to China, and who frequently touts his move to ban travel to the U.S. from China as his crowning achievement in containing the spread. In actuality, it was less of a ban than the imposition of a porous membrane.

A Tuesday story from the New York Times reporting that Trump maintains a bank account in China may give Democrats more fodder with which to respond to the Republican fixation. 

As of Wednesday morning though, Trump seemed unbowed, tweeting out a Breitbart story insisting that “Joe Biden must answer questions about Hunter Biden and China.”

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