Debate canceled: Candidates unable to agree on alternative after Kemp pulls out of Sunday showdown

The second and final televised Georgia gubernatorial debate was canceled Wednesday after Republican Brian Kemp pulled out of the initial Sunday event and he and Democrat Stacey Abrams couldn't agree on an alternative.

The debate was scheduled six weeks ago to air on Channel 2 Action News on Sunday at 5 p.m., but Kemp backed away from the event Tuesday after President Donald Trump announced a rally for his campaign in Macon at roughly the same time.

That led to a spate of finger-pointing between him and Abrams over who was to blame. Kemp said he offered to reschedule on “multiple days, times and venues” and said he would attend another debate hosted by Channel 2 on Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney added a taunt, asking if she will join the secretary of state on the debate stage or “just continue to hide from her radical record and extreme agenda.”

Abrams, whose team accused Kemp of backing out of his commitment, issued a lengthy release Wednesday night rejecting the late schedule change. Her campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said Abrams already moved forward with other plans.

“Just because Brian Kemp breaks his promises doesn’t mean anyone else should,” she said.

The scramble over the debate calendar was not unexpected after Trump's plans first emerged Sunday and Kemp's camp signaled it would capitalize on the president's visit even if it meant facing the fallout of abandoning the televised debate.

Trump endorsed Kemp days before the July runoff, and his administration’s support helped turn what was a somewhat close race against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle into a double-digit blowout.

Kemp has inextricably tied himself to Trump since entering the race early last year, and aggressively lobbied for the president to add a stop in Georgia before the midterm. Polls show his approval ratings ticking upward, to the mid-40s, in recent weeks.

Channel 2 Action News executives worked late Wednesday to try to schedule a new time, and news director Misti Turnbull said her “number one concern is giving Georgians what was promised - and that is a debate with all the major candidates.”

She added: “We regret that we had to cancel, but once Secretary Kemp pulled out at the last minute, the candidates could not agree on a new time.”