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Georgia senator to skip debate after Democratic rival goes viral

Sen. David PerdueDavid PerdueGeorgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks Please, President Trump: Drop your quest for revenge and help the GOP MORE (R-Ga.) will skip the final scheduled debate with rival Jon OssoffJon OssoffGeorgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee Wray hints at federal response to SolarWinds hack Georgia's GOP-led Senate passes bill requiring ID for absentee voting MORE after the Democrat launched a fiery attack at a Wednesday forum that went viral.

In the Wednesday debate on WTOC, Ossoff criticized Perdue for downplaying the threat of the coronavirus pandemic at the same time he was buying stocks in health care companies and selling shares in travel-related industries.

“Perhaps Sen. Perdue 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,” Ossoff said, as Perdue looked stoically into the camera. “It’s not just that you’re a crook, senator. It’s that you’re attacking the health of the people that you represent.”

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Video of the exchange posted to Ossoff’s Twitter feed had been viewed nearly 10 million times by late Thursday.

In a statement emailed to reporters, Perdue’s campaign said the senator would skip the remaining debate, scheduled for Sunday on WSB-TV, and would instead attend a rally with President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE.

“As lovely as another debating listening to Jon Ossoff lie to the people of Georgia sounds, Sen. Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia,” Perdue spokesman John Burke said.

Burke said Perdue had spent eight of the last 14 days of the campaign in Washington working on COVID-19 relief, which has not moved in the Senate, and voting to confirm Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill Supreme Court faces landmark challenge on voting rights The Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster MORE.

“To make up for lost time, Sen. Perdue has over 20 campaign stops planned for the closing days of this race, and he is excited to welcome and join President Trump in Georgia before November 3rd to campaign for both their re-election efforts,” Burke said.

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In a statement of his own, Ossoff called Perdue’s exit “cowardly.”

Both the race for Perdue’s seat and the race for Georgia’s electoral votes is remarkably competitive for a state Republicans have won for the last six presidential elections.

Polling in the last two weeks have found Ossoff and Perdue neck and neck; a Monmouth poll released this week found Ossoff leading by two points, and a CBS News poll released over the weekend found Perdue up by a single point. Monmouth found former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe West needs a more collaborative approach to Taiwan Abbott's medical advisers were not all consulted before he lifted Texas mask mandate House approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act MORE leading Trump by two, while CBS pegged the race at a tied 49 percent each.

Perdue and a handful of other senators — including his seat mate, Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerGeorgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks Kelly Loeffler's WNBA team sold after players' criticism MORE (R) — came under scrutiny for stock trades in their portfolios after they received a private briefing about the coronavirus pandemic on Jan. 24. Perdue’s account sold about $800,000 in stocks and purchased $1.8 million more in other companies.

Perdue has said his financial planners made the trades on his behalf. The Senate Ethics Committee has cleared Perdue of wrongdoing. Perdue’s campaign told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department have also closed inquiries into the matter, though the spokesperson said there was no formal documentation to prove it.

Ossoff, an investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker, is making his second run for office this year after losing a narrowly contested special election for Congress in 2017.