Pandemic! China! Ossoff-Perdue Senate debate twists, turns and goes viral

U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff square off in an Oct. 28, 2020 debate in Savannah.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff square off in an Oct. 28, 2020 debate in Savannah.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

‘You’re a crook.’ ‘You’re a socialist’

Time and again, Democrat Jon Ossoff tried to steer the second debate with U.S. Sen. David Perdue toward the Republican’s “lack of personal responsibility” over the coronavirus pandemic. And each time, the incumbent claimed Democrats and China were complicit in the outbreak’s grisly toll.

The face-to-face debate Wednesday, aired on WTOC, hinged on the same messages each of the rivals have pushed in the closing days of the race. The two are even in recent polls, and a Jan. 5 runoff will be required if neither gets a majority of the vote.

Ossoff hammered Perdue and other Republicans for not taking more aggressive action to stem the spread of a disease that’s killed more than 225,000 Americans. And Perdue countered by criticizing Ossoff’s firm for selling a documentary to a Hong Kong-based company with ties to China.

ExploreWhy Georgia Republican Senate candidates are talking Mao and Communism

“You’re going to hear David Perdue talk about everything but this crisis that has torn this country apart,” Ossoff said at the start of the Savannah showdown, previewing the back-and-forth to come. The Republican dismissed Ossoff’s jab as “idle chatter.”

Near the hourlong debate’s end, Ossoff declared Perdue to be a “crook” in a moment that quickly went viral on social media. But the most dramatic moment of the debate might have come when Perdue pulled out a document that he claimed showed Ossoff was trying to hide the business relationship with the Hong Kong firm.

“He needs to own up to it, because sooner or later, we need somebody in the United States Senate that will stand up to Communist China,” said Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive.

In a heated comeback, Ossoff said the Republican has “continued to demean yourself.”

“First, you were lengthening my nose in attack ads to remind everybody that I’m Jewish. Then, when that didn’t work, you started calling me some kind of Islamic terrorist. Then, when that didn’t work, you started calling me a Chinese Communist,” said Ossoff.

He added: “You shouldn’t do everything that your handlers in Washington tell you to – because you’ll lose your soul along the way.”

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. (right), and his Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, made in-person campaign appearances in metro Atlanta on Saturday, October 10, 2020. (Photos: Steve Schaefer / Special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. (right), and his Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, made in-person campaign appearances in metro Atlanta on Saturday, October 10, 2020. (Photos: Steve Schaefer / Special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

At another point, an exasperated Ossoff asked Perdue plainly: “Can you do anything but blame the Democrats?”

The Republican, too, vented his frustration at Ossoff.

“This is what you call the swamp in Washington,” he said with a sigh near the tail end of the debate. “I’m telling you, as an outsider, this is what drives me crazy right here.”

The showdown highlighted the sharpest contours of the tight race, which also features Libertarian Shane Hazel.

For months, Perdue has labeled Ossoff a socialist, insinuated he’s in league with terrorists and falsely claimed he was endorsed by Communists. The Democrat calls Perdue a “straight-up corruption” artist who abuses his power and puts his loyalty to President Donald Trump ahead of Georgians.

Here are some other key moments from the debate:

On Perdue’s mocking of vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris' name:

Perdue: “I absolutely meant no disrespect. I’ve said that publicly to Senator Harris … What I was trying to do is educate the people of Georgia about what’s trying to be perpetrated here: And that is this radical socialist agenda, that Jon Ossoff will clearly just be a rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.”

Ossoff: “He keeps repeating the same words over and over again – and, again, this is what they trained him to do up in Washington. But what he doesn’t want to address is this pandemic.”

10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - U.S. Republican Senator David Perdue makes remarks at a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
10/16/2020 -Macon, Georgia - U.S. Republican Senator David Perdue makes remarks at a President Donald Trump rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Friday, October 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

On whether Ossoff wants to “defund police” because he said funding for law enforcement should be “on the line:”

Ossoff: “Absolutely it’s not, defunding the police. What it is, is ensuring that local departments that apply for federal grants are held to high standards in terms of constitutional and civil rights.”

Perdue: “He really doesn’t address the real issue. The real issue is he says one thing in Atlanta … He’ll say and do anything to hide this radical socialist agenda that Democrats will try to perpetrate right now.”

On Perdue’s support for repealing the Affordable Care Act:

Ossoff: “You voted four times to repeal protections from pre-existing conditions. Then you spent millions of dollars running ads across Georgia, telling people you did the opposite .. You’ve been lying through your teeth about your record on healthcare.”

Perdue: “We are trying to protect the people of Georgia from something that has really devastated them in terms of healthcare costs in the middle of this pandemic. They’re calling us, accusing us of wanting to take away the insurance. They’ve already limited that to so many people in Georgia, and that’s one of the problems.”

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff gets a warm welcome from Biden supporters as he arrives for Presidential candidate Joe Biden's visit to Georgia at a drive-in event at the amphitheatre at Lakewood on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff gets a warm welcome from Biden supporters as he arrives for Presidential candidate Joe Biden's visit to Georgia at a drive-in event at the amphitheatre at Lakewood on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

On Perdue’s stock trades ahead of the pandemic:

Ossoff: “It’s not just that you’re a crook, senator. It’s that you’re attacking the health of the people that you represent. You did say Covid-19 was no deadlier than the flu. You did say there would be no significant uptick in cases. All the while, you were looking after your own assets, and your own portfolio. And you did vote four times to end protections for pre-existing conditions. Four times.”

Perdue: “I voted against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, because it was taking insurance away from millions of Georgians … This is exactly what I’m talking about. He’ll talk about anything except his own accountability and his own responsibility.”

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