Senate showdown: Ossoff and Perdue to tangle in first debate

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

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The pandemic will loom large in clash

U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff have bruised and battered each other on the campaign trail and over the airwaves for months to wind up in a stalemate in the polls. On Monday, they’ll have a chance to move the needle with a first face-to-face (virtual) confrontation.

Perdue hopes to use the Atlanta Press Club debate to make the case that his business background and outsider-tinged roots make him the better choice than Ossoff, who he’s relentlessly tried to brand as a radical socialist shill eager to subvert America’s capitalist values.

And Ossoff will surely try to frame the debate around healthcare issues – including the still-raging coronavirus pandemic – as he works to cast the first-term Republican as a relic of a corrupt status quo in Washington and a yes-man to President Donald Trump.

The debate – the first of three – coincides with the start of early voting, a crucial period that begins Monday and stretches for three weeks. The candidates are racing to lock up as many votes as they can as early as they can, and the showdown will fast become a part of their get-out-the-vote messaging.

ExploreWhy early voting matters more than ever in Georgia

It also takes place as the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings on Trump’s nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy. Perdue endorsed Trump’s push to fill the seat this year and called Amy Coney Barrett an “exceptional” pick, while Ossoff questioned whether her positions on abortion and healthcare could “endanger his constituents.”

How to watch: The debate will be livestreamed at 3 p.m on GPB.org and air at 8 p.m. on GPB-TV and the Atlanta Press Club’s Facebook site. Because of the pandemic, the debate will be held online. The press club’s debate for Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat is set for next week.

In the outbreak’s shadow: Just as the presidential showdown was shaped by the most lethal pandemic in a century, so too will this U.S. Senate matchup.

Ossoff has echoed White House hopeful Joe Biden’s message by blaming Republicans for mishandling the disease, and he’s vowed to expand healthcare access and slash drug prices. Perdue touts a measure he sponsored that would protect some pre-existing conditions while focusing on the administration’s pandemic economic stimulus efforts.

The pandemic also frames the debate’s setting. Though the candidates have both returned to the campaign trail, the hour-long showdown will be held online rather than in-person.

Senator David Perdue exits his bus at the canvass kick-off event in Marietta Saturday, October 10, 2020 STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Finger-pointing and name-calling: Perdue and his boosters have 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 loyalty to Trump ahead of Georgia.

The wild card: The debate will also feature Libertarian Shane Hazel, a third-party candidate who is trailing badly in the polls but could put either candidate on the defensive. Hazel, a former GOP congressional candidate, wants to legalize marijuana and end the “forever wars.”

Vulnerabilities: If you have the word “corrupt” on your bingo card, you’re in luck. Ossoff will try to paint Perdue with that brush early and often. Expect Perdue to contrast his business background as a former Fortune 500 chief executive to Ossoff, who runs an investigate journalism firm.

Candidate for United States Senate Jon Ossoff greets people at a rally at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, October 10, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

What the polls show: Perdue defeated Michelle Nunn by about 8 percentage points in 2014, but Georgia’s politics have tightened considerably since then. Just about every recent poll shows the two candidates deadlocked, with a slim number of Hazel supporters and a handful of undecided voters.

Bingo words: Socialist, radical, Trump, corrupt, “lied to the public," “defund the police,” pre-existing conditions, stocks and Communist.

ExploreGeorgia US Senate race: Where Perdue and Ossoff stand on the issues
ExploreWhy Georgia's twin U.S. Senate races are up for grabs

What the campaigns are saying about the debate:

Ossoff: “People need to understand that their healthcare is at stake. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. And Senator Perdue and President Trump are persisting in their efforts to allow insurance companies to deny health coverage to people with pre-exisitng conditions … Surely in the middle of a pandemic it’s never been clearer we need to get everyone covered with great health insurance.”

Perdue’s campaign: “Today, Georgians will see a clear contrast between Senator David Perdue’s positive vision to grow the economy, fight COVID-19 and improve public safety and Jon Ossoff’s dangerous, radical socialist agenda. With early voting starting today, the people of Georgia will see just what’s at stake this election and why it’s critical that we re-elect Senator Perdue on November 3.”

ExploreAJC Voter Guide for the Georgia Election

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