Perdue, Ossoff face off in 1st Georgia Senate debate

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2019, file photo, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks during a Kiwanis Club of Atlanta luncheon. Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia is set to face Democrat Jon Ossoff in the first debate of their U.S. Senate race Monday afternoon, Oct. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrea Smith, File)

ATLANTA — Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia is facing off against Democrat Jon Ossoff in the first debate of their U.S. Senate race.

Monday afternoon’s debate is being held virtually with candidates joining by video conferencing from separate locations. 

Ossoff has previously sought to make Perdue’s handling of the pandemic a central part of the campaign, accusing him of downplaying the risk of the virus and undermining scientists.

Perdue’s campaign has fired back, saying Ossoff is skewing his record and that the senator has helped secure billions of dollars in economic assistance, as well as protective medical gear and drugs for treatment.

While statewide races in Georgia tend to favor Republican candidates, public polling shows a neck-and-neck battle between Perdue and Ossoff. That’s led to huge sums of money being spent on advertising by both the candidates and outside groups with a stake in the outcome.

Georgia’s other Republican-held U.S. Senate seat is also up for grabs this year, and more than $150 million has been committed to ads in the two races combined, including past spending and future reservations.

Perdue, 70, is a former business executive who is seeking his second term in the Senate. Ossoff, 33, heads a small media company.

The debate is taking place the same day that in-person early voting opened in Georgia. Voters in some areas waited several hours to cast a ballot Monday morning.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also began hearings in Washington on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, opening another potential avenue of contention between Ossoff and Perdue.

Republicans including Perdue are pushing for a quick confirmation of the judge, while Democrats have said that any appointment should wait until after the election.

Perdue has lauded Barrett, saying in a recent statement that she “will be an exceptional Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Ossoff meanwhile has raised questions about what confirmation of Barrett would mean for the future of the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed by Congress in 2010.

“Will Judge Barrett impartially uphold the rule of law and defend the public interest by upholding the Affordable Care Act, which prevents insurance companies from denying health coverage to Americans suffering from cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other pre-existing conditions?” Ossoff asked in a recent news release.

The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in a challenge to the law by the Trump administration and Republican-led states including Georgia.

Monday’s debate, which is the first of three debates scheduled in the race, also includes Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel.