Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Jon Ossoff gestures to an empty lectern representing his opponent, Republican Sen. David Perdue, who declined to attend a debate Dec. 6, 2020.

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Jon Ossoff gestures to an empty lectern representing his opponent, Republican Sen. David Perdue, who declined to attend a debate Dec. 6, 2020.

Credit: Ben Gray | Pool

An empty lectern, a "radical liberal" and a pledge to take a coronavirus vaccine were among the highlights of a pair of U.S. Senate debates in Georgia on Sunday ahead of a Jan. 5 runoff that will decide control of the chamber.  

Three of the four candidates participated in the Atlanta Press Club debates, with Republican Sen. David Perdue declining to attend a faceoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff, the second debate he has skipped.

"A strange situation, asking a question of a sitting United States senator who was not here to debate, as he asks for the votes of the people to be reelected," Ossoff said. "I suppose he doesn't feel that he can handle himself in debate, or perhaps he's concerned that he may incriminate himself in debate, both of which, in my opinion, are disqualifying."

Perdue has faced a slew of negative headlines lately for stock trades conducted this year, including investment decisions made with companies he has oversight of through committee appointments.

In the 30-minute debate, Ossoff said he would support stricter lockdown measures to combat the coronavirus, and said that while we should not get "bogged down in the details" about specific economic relief, there should be direct payments imminently.

"I will be listening carefully in the U.S. Senate to the advice of the leadership of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based right here in Georgia," he said. "And I will be working to make sure that they have the resources they need to to contain the spread of this virus." 

In the second debate, Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler traded barbs over each other's backgrounds and statements over hot-button cultural issues.

Warnock spent much of the debate on the defensive for comments made over decades in the pulpit, including comments about the military and police.

"Sen. Loeffler is trying to misrepresent me, because she knows that she has spent the first 10 months of her tenure thinking about herself," he said. "She's the unelected senator of Georgia... she was appointed; the people of Georgia have been disappointed." 

For her part, Loeffler drilled Warnock as someone whose progressive policies were out of touch with Georgians, calling him "radical liberal Raphael Warnock" 14 times. 

"On Jan. 5, we can take the path of supporting the American dream, of standing the economy back up and getting through this virus together, or we can take the path of socialism that radical liberal Raphael Warnock wants to bring to our country," she said. "Increasing our taxes, taking away the private insurance that you get at your jobs and replacing it with government-run health care."

But Loeffler refused to directly acknowledge that President Trump lost Georgia and the general election, noting four times that the president has "every right to every legal recourse" but also arguing that her election was about control of the Senate majority, which would only be the case if the tie-breaking vote was cast by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

At one point, Warnock asked Loeffler point blank if she would say that Trump lost the election. Loeffler deflected, pointing instead to several investigations opened by the Secretary of State's office into alleged misconduct.

In a rare moment of agreement, both Warnock and Loeffler said they would take a coronavirus vaccine once proven safe. 

Early voting begins Dec. 14, and about 1 million absentee ballots have been requested so far for the election.