Once a debate no-show, Perdue readies for series of faceoffs with Kemp

David Perdue famously skipped the sole debate in a 2021 U.S. Senate runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Now an underdog in his primary challenge against Gov. Brian Kemp, the former U.S. senator is about to enter a weeklong gantlet of showdowns against the incumbent.

Perdue is set to meet Kemp for three debates, starting with a 7 p.m. Sunday faceoff on WSB-TV. That will be followed by a showdown Thursday on WTOC in Savannah and an Atlanta Press Club debate May 1 to be aired by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Leading in the polls, Kemp set the stage for the debates by challenging Perdue to a series of four meetings. After weeks of deliberation, Perdue agreed to appear in a lineup of three debates. The final showdown will take place just hours before early voting begins in the May 24 primary.

Sunday’s debate on Channel 2 will be Perdue’s first since he refused to face Ossoff in December 2020, allowing an empty podium to represent him before a national audience.

At the time, Perdue cited a busy itinerary for being a no-show, though his strategy contrasted not only with that of Ossoff but also fellow Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, who participated in a debate with Democrat Raphael Warnock.

In the book “Flipped,” former Perdue top aide Derrick Dickey criticized the Republican for ducking the debate stage. Dickey had urged him during the 2014 campaign to meet his GOP opponents, along with Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn, whenever possible.

“If you can’t stand up and handle the press and deliver a message that connects with people, then how are people going to trust you to do the right things when no one is paying attention?” asked Dickey, who now works for a pro-Kemp outside group.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Kemp, too, also skipped the second and final televised debate in 2018 against his Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams after then-President Donald Trump scheduled a campaign rally for the Republican the same night as the long-scheduled event.

The upcoming stretch also will bring more attention to front-runner Herschel Walker’s decision to avoid his rivals in the GOP’s U.S. Senate primary.

Comfortably ahead in the polls, he’s bypassed forums and debates with other Republicans, including a Gainesville showdown where his absence loomed over the event.

In some instances, Walker has cited scheduling conflicts. In others, he’s said he’s focused on a general election matchup against Warnock. Asked this week on WDUN whether he’d debate Warnock ahead of the November election, Walker indicated he would.

“I commit to doing whatever I need to do to win this seat,” he said, adding: “Rev. Warnock better get ready. Because I’m getting ready.”

Walker’s rivals have accused him of cowardice. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said Thursday that he would “never run from a question or a debate — and you’ll never doubt where I stand on the issues.”

And former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler said Walker is treating the primary competition more like a coronation than an election, relying on his celebrity while sidestepping the chance to test his ideas and sharpen his stances in public.

“Why are you afraid to debate the other Republicans in the race?” he said of Walker in an interview. “If you can’t debate the rest of us, how in the world do you think you can get on that debate stage with Raphael Warnock and win the general election?”

The GOP candidates will meet without Walker at an Atlanta Press Club debate May 3. Other debates scheduled May 1-3 as part of the Loudermilk-Young Series include races for the U.S. House, lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

Georgia election debates

David Perdue is set to meet Brian Kemp for three debates:

Other debates scheduled May 1-3 as part of the Loudermilk-Young Series include races for the U.S. House, lieutenant governor and secretary of state.