ATLANTA — For much of their debate on Monday, viewers watched Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and his Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, spar in bitter back-and-forth exchanges.
Perdue, 70, accused Ossoff of having a “radical socialist agenda,” while the 33-year-old media executive criticized Perdue's response to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Libertarian Shane Hazel touted the value of limited government.
The virtual event was hosted by the Atlanta Press Club.
The Senate race is one of Georgia's most closely watched contests with multiple polls showing Perdue and Ossoff about even.
Perdue dodged questions on topics ranging from school reopenings amid the pandemic to plans to address climate change but was quick to call Ossoff “desperate” and label him a “rubber stamp” for the “radical left movement."
Ossoff accused Perdue of, like President Trump, downplaying the severity of COVID-19 and called on him to answer the questions that were asked of him.
“The question was about this COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 220,000 Americans,” Ossoff said. "After you assured us the risk to our health was low and compared it to the common flu.”
Perdue did not highlight his loyalty to President Trump during the debate as much as he has throughout his campaign, and said Ossoff is taking his comments about the virus “out of context,” and defended how quickly the economy was reopened.
"We created a relief package that brought $47 billion to the state, including a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) program that you oppose that saved a million-and-a-half jobs in Georgia,” Perdue said. “You would have denied those million-and-a-half people their jobs.”
Ossoff hit back.
"Senator, the president of the United States stood in the White House briefing room and suggested people inject chemical disinfectants,” he said. "You told us this disease was no more deadly than the flu, you're changing the subject left, right and center. You seriously believe President Trump has done everything in his power to protect us?”
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings in Washington on President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, which has created yet another battle between Democrats and Republicans. Perdue has supported the president’s pick to fill the spot of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and called for Barrett's swift confirmation. Ossoff pointed out that Perdue spoke against former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the top court in 2016 because that was also during an election year.
“Four years ago, Sen. Perdue was adamant. He gave impassioned ... speeches on the floor of the Senate that no confirmation of a Supreme Court justice should proceed in a presidential election year,” Ossoff said. "Now he's thrown those so-called principles aside.”
Ossoff said he does not support packing the Supreme Court because a party doesn’t agree with "the policy positions of a justice who has been confirmed."
Perdue said the situation in 2016 differed from this year because the same party did not hold both the White House and the Senate.
Hazel took the opportunity to appeal to voters that such bickering is exactly why government should have less control of people's lives.
"Ladies and gents, if you're sick of this kind of stuff and you want principled consistency on the policy here in the United States and overseas,” he said, "you're not going to get it with these types of politicians."
Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.