ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff battered each other Wednesday night with what has become the familiar refrains of their bitter race: Perdue repeatedly accused Ossoff of backing radical, socialist policies while Ossoff slammed Perdue's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and Republican efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Perdue and Ossoff met in Savannah for their second debate of the race, which polls indicate is extremely close. The outcome could have national implications over which party controls the Senate, with Democrats hoping Ossoff could give the party their first U.S. Senate win in Georgia since 2000.
Their attacks Wednesday mirrored their first debate as well as the ads from both sides that have blanketed television airwaves in recent months.
“We are in the middle of a grave public health crisis. It is spiraling out of control because Washington politicians downplayed the crisis, ignored the medical science, undermined the doctors and scientists who knew what they're doing," Ossoff said. “And senator David Perdue, in the middle of this health crisis, is still supporting efforts to repeal protections for Georgians with preexisting conditions.”
"Right now we've got to get serious about beating COVID and then getting our economy going again. If you leave it to the Democrats, they want us locked down and continue to stay locked down," Perdue responded, before falsely accusing Ossoff of backing the Green New Deal and socialized medicine, neither of which Ossoff supports.
"He will say and do anything to hide this radical socialist agenda. The number one thing that will bankrupt us is the Green New Deal and socialized medicine," Perdue said.
“There's the senator with the catchphrases again. But no substance, little truth and no sense of personal responsibility,” Ossoff shot back.
The two candidates also sparred over the recent confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, gun laws and criminal justice reform in Wednesday's debate.
Libertarian Shane Hazel is also on the ballot, raising the potential that Ossoff and Perdue could head to overtime in the form of a Jan. 5 runoff — required if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in November.
Hazel, who has lagged far behind in public polling, said on Twitter that he was not invited to the debate, held by WTOC-TV.
“If you’re tired of what you’re seeing here between politicians, you’ve got a choice,” Hazel said of the back and forth between Perdue and Ossoff during their first debate, which was held on Oct. 12.
That first debate took place virtually with candidates joining from separate locations because of the pandemic. Wednesday night’s event was the first debate where Perdue and Ossoff met in person.
Perdue, 70, is a former business executive seeking his second term in the Senate. Ossoff, 33, heads a media company that investigates crime and corruption for news organizations. Hazel is a Marine Corps veteran and podcast host.
The debate was initially scheduled for Oct. 19 but was postponed so Perdue could return to Washington for a procedural vote on GOP-backed coronavirus relief legislation.
By Wednesday, over 3.4 million ballots had already been cast in Georgia, according to the secretary of state’s office.