ATLANTA (AP) — A final debate between Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff has been canceled after Perdue dropped out, saying he would attend a campaign rally with President Donald Trump instead.
The cancellation was announced Thursday night, a day after Perdue and Ossoff met for a bitter second debate in Savannah in which Ossoff slammed Perdue as a "crook" who downplayed the coronavirus pandemic. Perdue, who is seeking a second term, denied the accusation.
Polls show a tight race between the two candidates heading into the final days of the campaign. The final debate had been scheduled for Sunday.
Perdue's communications director John Burke said in a statement shared on Twitter that Perdue would instead join Trump at an expected rally.
"As lovely as another debate listening to Jon Ossoff lie to the people of Georgia sounds, Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia," Burke said.
Ossoff fired back in a statement, saying, "Senator Perdue's cowardly withdrawal from our final debate says it all: David Perdue feels entitled to his office, and he'll do anything to avoid accountability for his blatant corruption and his total failure during this unprecedented health crisis."
In a debate on Wednesday, Perdue and Ossoff hammered each other with attacks that mirrored the ads from both sides that have blanketed television airwaves in recent months. Perdue repeatedly accused Ossoff of backing radical socialist policies, while Ossoff slammed Perdue's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and Republican efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
"Well, perhaps Senator Perdue would have been able to respond properly to the COVID-19 pandemic if you hadn't been fending off multiple federal investigations for insider trading," Ossoff said in a clip from the debate that has since been widely shared on social media. "It's not just that you're a crook, senator, it's that you're attacking the health of the people you represent."
Perdue was among a group of senators whose stock trades came under scrutiny after they received briefings on the virus. Perdue denied any wrongdoing, saying the trades were handled by outside advisers and that he was cleared by a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.
"This stock trade nonsense; he keeps hammering that even though he knows — it's in the public record — that that's been totally refuted," Perdue said. He later added: "The thing I'm most upset about, though, is that he'll say and do anything to my friends in Georgia to mislead them about how radical and socialist (his) agenda really is."
Another debate scheduled for Sunday — in Georgia's other Senate race between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, GOP Rep. Doug Collins and Democrat Raphael Warnock — was also canceled after Loeffler and Warnock declined to participate.