Perdue becomes the latest Senate Republican to balk at a debate reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog). For many of these candidates, the calculus is simple: would participating in a debate make them appear worse than refusing to debate?
This year’s U.S. Senate races have produced plenty of memorable debates. One of my personal favorites came a couple of weeks ago in Iowa, when Theresa Greenfield (D) faced incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst (R) in a debate, and both were presented with an agricultural pop quiz. Greenfield aced the test; Ernst did not.
That one was fun. One of the two candidates knew he price of soy beans and the other did not. And that in a deeply agricultural state!
But perhaps even more dramatic was a debate in Georgia this week, in which Jon Ossoff (D) humiliated incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R) – more than once. The two were scheduled to meet again for another debate last night, but that didn’t happen.
Ossoff tweeted that Perdue cancelled their final debate, adding that at last night’s debate Perdue had, “no answers when I called him out on his record of blatant corruption, widespread disease, and economic devastation.” Perdue’s spokesman John Burke confirms that the incumbent senator did cancel the debate, but says it’s because President Donald Trump will be in the state campaigning and Perdue intends to be by his side.
Sure. Whatever you guys say.
More details of the Ossoff/Perdue debate are below.
What’s just as notable, however, is the familiarity of these circumstances. In Mississippi’s U.S. Senate race, incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) declared two weeks ago that she won’t debate former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D). “The only people interested in debates are reporters and losing candidates,” the Republican argued.
In Alabama, incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D) has said he’s eager to debate Tommy Tuberville (R), a former college football coach and failed hedge-fund manager, but the Republican challenger has refused to share a stage with the senator. (Tuberville has also avoided questions from journalists and generally avoids public appearances. He’s favored to win anyway.)
In Louisiana, incumbent Sen. Bill Cassidy (R), at least as of a few days ago, ruled out debating Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins (D), too.
And in Michigan, incumbent Sen. Gary Peters (D) has offered to debate challenger John James (R), but the Republican’s campaign has raised concerns about the terms and proposed formats.
For many of these candidates, the calculus is simple: would participating in a debate make them appear worse than refusing to debate? The answer is apparently obvious. Just as Georgia’s David Perdue.
Update: While we’re on the subject, it’s also worth noting that in Kansas’ surprisingly competitive U.S. Senate race, Rep. Roger Marshall (R) was invited to participate in a debate in Topeka this week, but he refused to show up. When the Republican congressman said he didn’t know about the event, the local NBC News affiliate, KSNT, literally brought the receipts to refute his claims.
Second Update: A reader emails to remind me that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently skipped a debate, too.
Ossoff’s hard-hitting Georgia Senate debate performance goes viral, for good reason writes Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos Staff.
Jon Ossoff and Sen. David Perdue debated on Wednesday night, and Ossoff was pulling absolutely no punches, calling Perdue a “crook” to his face. The debate came days before the election and with Ossoff narrowly leading in many polls—though often below the 50% mark that Georgia law requires to avoid a runoff—and Ossoff had clearly decided not to play it safe and bland.
That “crook” comment came as Ossoff talked about Perdue’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying: “Perhaps you would have been able to respond properly to the COVID–19 pandemic if you hadn’t been fending off multiple federal investigations for insider trading. 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,” Ossoff continued. “All the while you were looking over your own assets and your own portfolio, and you did vote four times to end protections for preexisting conditions. Four times. And the legislation that you tout—the Protect Act—it includes loopholes that specifically allow insurance companies to deny policies to Georgians with preexisting conditions. Can you look down the camera and tell the people of this state why you voted four times to allow insurance companies to deny us health coverage because we may suffer from diabetes or heart disease or asthma or have cancer in remission. Why, senator?”
That clip (watch here) has gone viral, drawing over 6 million views and counting. But there was another important moment in which Ossoff took it right to Perdue, too.
“You’ve continued to demean yourself throughout this campaign with your conduct,” Ossoff said, addressing Perdue. “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. And then when that didn’t work, you started calling me a Chinese communist. It’s ridiculous, and you shouldn’t do everything that your handlers in Washington tell you to, ‘cause you’ll lose your soul along the way, senator. What the people of Georgia deserve is a serious discussion of economic relief for Georgia families and how we’re going to protect coverage for preexisting conditions.”
That’s going to leave a mark—and check out Perdue’s face during both of those moments.