Democrat Jon Ossoff declines a 6th District debate on CNN

Jon Ossoff at a debate before the April special election.

Jon Ossoff at a debate before the April special election.

Democrat Jon Ossoff has declined to take a series of 6th District debates with Republican Karen Handel to the national stage, confirming Sunday that he will not participate in a June 13 Atlanta Press Club debate that CNN had proposed to broadcast.

That means the only likely televised comparisons between the two candidates for the nationally watched congressional race will occur this week: Tuesday on WSB-TV and Thursday on WABE-TV/PBA 30, an Atlanta-based PBS station. A June 15 debate on WSB Radio that’s co-hosted by the North Fulton Chamber remains a possibility.

APC President Lauri Strauss confirmed Ossoff’s decision to skip the CNN debate. Ossoff spokeswoman Amy Messner said in a statement sent to CNN that the campaign had committed only to debates moderated by “the metro Atlanta press corps.”

Ossoff and Handel both attended more than a dozen forums and debates in the runup to the April 18 vote. Since then, the two campaigns have struggled to agree on the timing and scheduling of their one-on-one forums.

Each side has tried to use the scheduling of debates to score points.

Shortly after his first-place finish in April, Ossoff challenged Handel to six debates and later said he “confirmed” three of them: One with CBS-46, one with WSB-TV and a third hosted by the Dunwoody Homeowners Association. But Handel had declined to attend the Dunwoody debate, leading to a wave of criticism from Ossoff supporters and the debate organizers.

Handel supporters were quick to seize on Ossoff’s decision to skip the CNN debate.

“Ossoff still isn’t ready for prime time. Maybe if CNN lets him dress in ‘Star Wars’ attire he’ll reconsider?” tweeted Southern Region Young Republicans, referring to a video of Ossoff dressed as Han Solo from his college days.

Ossoff’s strategy has been to keep his personal message local, concentrating on federal spending and economic development. The Democrat has left it to others, including high-spending super PACs, to characterize his campaign as a protest against the administration of President Donald Trump.

That separation might be harder to maintain under questioning that would have likely been dominated by national correspondents from CNN.

Strauss expressed disappointment in the decision.

“The Atlanta Press Club has a 25-year history of providing Georgia voters fair and balanced debates through its Loudermilk-Young Debate Series,” Strauss said. “We regret Jon Ossoff has declined to be a part of this debate, which would have helped inform the voters of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District and engaged viewers around the country.”