Top Democrats in Perdue race face sharp criticism in debate

A phony Democrat. A “fail forward” candidate. And a “dereliction of duty.”

The top three Democrats in the race to challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue faced some of the sharpest criticism yet during a Tuesday debate hosted by DeKalb Democrats.

Most of the incoming fire targeted Jon Ossoff, a former 6th District candidate who leads the polls, and Sarah Riggs Amico, who enjoys high name recognition thanks to her bid for lieutenant governor in 2018.

But former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson faced challenging questioning, too, over her stance on prison work camps while leading the west Georgia city.

The debate represented a partial break in a mostly amicable race. While Amico and Ossoff have largely focused on Perdue and avoided pummeling their Democratic rivals, Tomlinson has increasingly swiped at her main opponents as the June 9 primary nears.

She escalated that strategy during the virtual debate. Invoking former President Barack Obama’s endorsement of Amico in 2018, Tomlinson pointedly asked whether he knew she had donated to Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Amico responded that she was proud to earn Obama’s endorsement and that she “certainly wouldn’t question” the work by his aides who vetted her candidacy. She also said she’s long acknowledged she hasn’t “been a lifelong partisan Democrat” even as she adheres to the party’s values.

Tomlinson also questioned whether Ossoff was ready to join the U.S. Senate with a background “as a documentary filmmaker and an unsuccessful congressional candidate.”

Rather than swinging back, he applauded her previous work as a litigator and pivoted to an attack on Perdue, a first-term Republican he accused of perpetuating a “corrupt” status quo.

“I expose corruption for a living and David Perdue sells access for campaign cash,” he said.

Ossoff also faced fire from Maya Dillard Smith, a former ACLU of Georgia director who pressed the 33-year-old why he’s running after losing to Karen Handel in the nationally-watched 2017 election.

“For many, it feels like the epitome of privilege to fail forward,” she asserted.

With his answer, Ossoff also shifted to Perdue, who he said “embodies so much of what is wrong with our political system.”

“I feel a tremendous motivation and passion to defeat our incumbent senator, David Perdue, who has utterly failed the people of this state,” he said.

While Amico and Ossoff largely ignored Tomlinson, Smith didn’t.

She asked whether Tomlinson committed a “dereliction of duty” because Columbus relied on offenders from a county work camp operated by the state for work such as cleaning up roadways and maintaining parks.

Calling it “flatly wrong,” Tomlinson said she was trying to “wean” the city from relying on prison labor by raising garbage fees and cutting other costs to replace the services of the state work camp.