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Ossoff debates empty podium as Perdue refuses to participate

Democrat Jon Ossoff debated an empty podium on Sunday night, repeatedly blasting his opponent, Georgia Sen. David PerdueDavid PerdueGeorgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock Georgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' Warnock raises nearly M since January victory MORE (R), for refusing to participate in the debate.

Ossoff and Perdue are facing off in one of the two Jan. 5 Senate runoffs in the Peach State.

Atlanta’s Fox 5 evening anchor Russ Spencer, who moderated the debate, introduced the candidates, with the camera showing an empty podium as he introduced Perdue. Spencer explained that the Georgia senator "declined to participate." 

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Perdue had said last month that he would not participate in the debate. Ossoff repeatedly slammed Perdue over his absence.  

"The reason that we are losing thousands of people per day to this virus is because of the arrogance of politicians like David Perdue — so arrogant that he disregarded public health expertise and so arrogant that he’s not with us here today to answer questions," the Democrat said during a question about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in Georgia and across the country.

"It shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement for Georgia’s senior U.S. senator to believe he shouldn’t have to debate at a moment like this in our history," he added. 

Ossoff also claimed that Perdue did not attend the debate because he did not want to “incriminate himself,” referencing the Republican’s controversial record of trading stocks throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The Perdue campaign has denied allegations that the senator made trades based on insider information and has said that he has been exonerated by officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission and others.

During a portion of the debate where candidates typically pose questions to each other, Ossoff said it’s “a strange situation to be asking a question of a sitting United States senator who is not here to debate as he asks for the votes of the people to be reelected.”

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Ossoff said he would ask Perdue “why he continues to oppose $1,200 stimulus checks for the American people at this moment in crisis, why he fought against them in the first place and why he isn’t in Washington right now championing direct financial relief.”

“If I had the opportunity to ask the senator a question, if the senator were not too much of a coward to debate in public, then that’s what I’d ask him,” Ossoff added.

Perdue initially opposed the stimulus checks sent to Americans in coronavirus relief legislation earlier this year. However, he later voted for the $2 trillion package that included the checks. 

"Tonight we witnessed something we didn't know was possible: a candidate lost a debate against himself. An epic failure," said Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry. "Jon Ossoff came out in support of blanket amnesty, a national lockdown, and made clear he doesn't want to 'get bogged down in the details' about additional COVID relief. These are serious times and Jon Ossoff just showed how unserious -- and unprepared -- he really is. Georgians will reject Jon Ossoff once again next month." 

Ossoff also took to Twitter to mock Perdue, tweeting an emoji of a chicken and the hashtag #WhereIsDavidPerdue.

Republican Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerHerschel Walker skips Georgia's GOP convention Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE (Ga.) and her Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, both attended a debate in Georgia's other runoff election that will take place in January. The races will determine whether Republicans maintain control over the Senate.