ATLANTA — For much of the U.S. Senate debate Monday, Georgians watched rivals U.S. Sen. David Perdue and his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff spar in bitter back-and-forth exchanges.
Perdue, 70, who is seeking reelection, accused Ossoff of a “radical socialist agenda” while the 33-year-old media executive criticized the Georgia senator's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While not the only two candidates — Libertarian Shane Hazel joined the debate and touted the value of limited government — Perdue and Ossoff battled in the virtual event hosted by the Atlanta Press Club.
The race is just one of Georgia's closely watched contests with multiple polls showing Perdue and Ossoff neck-and-neck in the fight for votes in the Peach State. More than 600,000 people have already cast their ballots for the general election through mail-in ballots or during the first day of early in-person voting.
Perdue dodged questions on topics ranging from school reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic to plans to address climate change but was quick to call Ossoff “desperate” and label him a “rubber stamp” for the “radical left movement."
Ossoff accused Perdue of, like the president himself, downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and called on him to answer the questions that were asked of him.
“The question was about this COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 220,000 Americans,” Ossoff said. "After you assured us the risk to our health was low and compared it to the common flu.”
Perdue did not highlight his loyalty to President Donald Trump during the debate as much as he has throughout his campaign, but said Ossoff is taking his comments about the virus “out of context” and defended how quickly the economy was reopened.
"We created a relief package that brought $47 billion to the state, including a PPP program that you oppose that saved a million and a half jobs in Georgia,” he said. “You would have denied those million and a half people their jobs.”
Ossoff hit back.
"Senator, the President of the United States stood in the White House briefing room and suggested people inject chemical disinfectants,” he said. "You told us this disease was no more deadly than the flu, you're changing the subject left, right and center. You seriously believe, President Trump has done everything in his power to protect us?”
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings in Washington on Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee Amy Barrett, which has created yet another battle between Democrats and Republicans.
Perdue has supported the president’s pick to fill the spot of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and called for her swift appointment.
But his Democratic opponent pointed out that Perdue spoke out adamantly against former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 because it was an election year.
“Four years ago, Senator Perdue was adamant. He gave impassioned floor speeches on the floor of the Senate that no confirmation of a Supreme Court justice should proceed in a presidential election year,” Ossoff said. "Now he's thrown those so called principles aside.”
Ossoff also said that he does not support packing the Supreme Court because a party doesn’t agree with "the policy positions of a justice who has been confirmed."
Perdue said that the situation in 2016 differed from today because the same party did not hold both the White House and the Senate.
In between the back-and-forth of Perdue and Ossoff, Hazel took the chance to appeal to voters that the bickering is exactly why government should have less control.
"Ladies and gents if you're sick of this kind of stuff and you want principled consistency, on the policy here in the United States and overseas,” he said. "You're not going to get it with these types of politicians."