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And you thought the presidential debates got heated.
The first in-person face-off in Georgia between Sen. David Perdue, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff on Wednesday night saw the candidates attacking each other over issues including the coronavirus and the Affordable Care Act, leading Ossoff to call Perdue a “crook” over his pandemic stock trades, while Perdue falsely suggested that Ossoff was endorsed by the Communist Party.
There are two Senate races this year in Georgia, and the state is one of the keys to determining control of the chamber. Perdue, 70, is a former Dollar General DG, +0.38% and Reebok executive seeking his second term, while Ossoff, 33, runs a media company investigating crime and corruption. They’re joined on the ballot by Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel, who was not invited to the debate in Savannah, Ga., on Wednesday. Hazel lags in public polling, with Perdue and Ossoff neck-and-neck, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Ossoff came to prominence in 2017 when his narrow loss to Republican Karen Handel in a special House election captured national attention and campaign contributions. (Handel is now running to recapture that Atlanta-area seat from Democrat Lucy McBath.)
Read:Here are the Senate races to watch, as Democrats battle to take control from Republicans
Coming out swinging on Wednesday, Ossoff hammered Perdue over the Republican Party’s approach to the coronavirus, in particular.
“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, pointing to the investigations into Perdue’s stock trades at the advent of the pandemic. The senator’s campaign has provided part of a letter from the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee that said it did not find evidence that his actions violated federal statutes, Senate rules or standards of conduct.
“It’s not just that you’re a crook, senator,” Ossoff continued. “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. All the while you were looking after your own assets and your own portfolio.”
He also called out the Republican for voting to end protections for pre-existing conditions as part of the GOP’s long-running effort to kill the Affordable Care Act.
“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?” Ossoff asked.
The Democratic challenger posted a clip of his verbal fusillade on his official Twitter account Wednesday night, and it had been viewed almost 7 million times by press time on Thursday. Perdue’s name, and the viral clip of Ossoff berating him, were still trending Thursday morning.
This was the second debate between the two, following a virtual matchup two weeks ago.
More than 3.4 million ballots had already been cast in Georgia by Wednesday, according to the secretary of state’s office, NBC reported.
Georgia’s other Senate race finds Republican Kelly Loeffler — a gubernatorial appointee to her seat who has also faced questions about stock-market maneuvers before the public was well-informed of the looming coronavirus catastrophe — under threat not only from Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock but fellow Republican Doug Collins, one of the more vocal Trump backers in the House.
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From the archives (March 2020):Two senators under scrutiny over selling stock before the coronavirus market crash — but do insider-trading laws apply?