In one of the most closely watched and tightest Senate races in the country, the Democratic candidate called his incumbent opponent a “crook” in a debate Wednesday night and was accused in turn of pushing the “radical socialist agenda” of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
“Well, 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,” said Democrat Jon Ossoff of first-term Republican David Perdue. “It’s not just that you’re a crook, senator,” Ossoff said. “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. And you did vote four times to end protections for preexisting conditions. Four times.”
Ossoff shared the clip on Twitter, where it’s already been viewed more than 5 million times.
Perdue, a former CEO of companies including Haggar and Dollar General, has had a substantial stock portfolio, but his trading increased threefold in the early days of the pandemic, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He sold stock in three companies, including Apple and Bank of America, on Jan. 24, the same day the Senate received a confidential briefing on the coronavirus. According to the newspaper’s reporting, he invested at least $185,000 in DuPont, which supplies material for health care workers’ personal protective equipment.
Perdue’s office said he followed federal guidelines, and his campaign has run an ad calling Ossoff a liar for making the accusations. A number of senators, including Kelly Loeffler, the other Republican incumbent running for reelection in Georgia; Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., were also identified by ProPublica as having engaged in unusual stock trading in the early weeks of the pandemic. A Justice Department investigation subsequently cleared all the senators except Burr. Perdue has not been charged with any crimes and is not known to be under investigation.
Perdue countered by criticizing Ossoff, who runs a documentary film company, for selling a documentary to a Hong Kong-based company with ties to China. In what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called “the most dramatic moment of the debate,” Perdue pulled out a document that he claimed showed Ossoff was trying to hide the business relationship with the Hong Kong firm.
“He needs to own up to it, because sooner or later, we need somebody in the United States Senate that will stand up to Communist China,” Perdue said.
Ossoff, 33, gained prominence among national Democrats during a failed bid in a House special election in 2017. He’s turned that name recognition into massive fundraising hauls, with his race against Perdue, 70, becoming one of the most expensive in the country. Perdue was elected in 2014. Loeffler was appointed to the seat held by Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired at the end of last year, and is running in a special election to keep her seat.
Georgia law requires Senate races to be decided by a majority, not a plurality, of the vote. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent, there will be a Jan. 5 runoff between the top two vote getters, in which case control of the Senate might not be decided until then.
Recent polling shows a tight race between Perdue and Ossoff. A Monmouth University survey released Wednesday gives Ossoff a 3-point edge, 49-46. A Libertarian Party candidate in the race is siphoning off some of the vote, potentially keeping the winner below the threshold to avoid a runoff.
Perdue has run as a staunch supporter of President Trump in a state where the presidential race is seen as a toss-up, with former Vice President Joe Biden even leading in some polls. At a Trump campaign event earlier this month, Perdue said the president was sent by God to help the American people.
“This guy is providential. He didn’t happen by accident,” Perdue said at a rally in Macon. “How in the world in our political system could Donald J. Trump come on the scene in 2016 and do what he did? Tell me. God’s watching.”
That was the same rally in which Perdue ostentatiously had trouble pronouncing the name of Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate.
“Kamala? Kamala? Kamala-mala-mala? I don’t know. Whatever,” Perdue said of the woman who’s been his Senate colleague for the last three and a half years, as the crowd laughed.
Perdue addressed the much-criticized comments at Wednesday’s debate.
“I absolutely meant no disrespect. I’ve said that publicly to Sen. Harris,” he said. “What I was trying to do is educate the people of Georgia about what’s trying to be perpetrated here: And that is this radical socialist agenda, that Jon Ossoff will clearly just be a rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.”
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