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Georgia senator to skip debate after Democratic rival goes viral

Sen. David PerdueDavid PerdueLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock Georgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' MORE (R-Ga.) will skip the final scheduled debate with rival Jon OssoffJon OssoffStacey Abrams calls on young voters of color to support election reform bill MLB calls lawsuit over All-Star Game 'political theatrics' Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock 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 TrumpNorth Carolina Senate passes trio of election measures 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos 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 BarrettThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' McConnell sparks new Supreme Court fight McConnell signals GOP would block Biden Supreme Court pick in '24 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 BidenJapan to possibly ease COVID-19 restrictions before Olympics 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday China supplies millions of vaccine doses to developing nations in Asia 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 LoefflerLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Herschel Walker skips Georgia's GOP convention Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock 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.