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Ossoff debates next to empty podium, challenges Senator Perdue from afar

It was an unusual debate structure where accusations from the stage met response by press release.

ATLANTA — Debates tend to have at least two people - but one of the most pivotal in the United States election cycle took place with only one on Sunday.

During the first Atlanta Press Club debate on Sunday, Senate hopeful Jon Ossoff debated next to an empty podium because Senator David Perdue declined to participate in the first runoff election debate.

The event and the obvious absence made for an interesting first on the debate stage, though other things, like name-calling from the stage - and then in press releases - were a bit more familiar.

The non-debate went forward in the same three-round format it would have had with two, but with only Ossoff answering questions.

"This is a strange situation," Ossoff once quipped.

The debate, still formal, introduced the candidate and then introduced the microphone and podium next to him in place of Perdue.

Then the rapid-fire questions began. Ossoff answered questions regarding COVID-19 and whether he would support stricter rules and a new lockdown.

"I will take my cues from public health officials like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," he said.

On the criminal justice system, Ossoff said that, if elected, he would work to pass a new Civil Rights Act.

"We can establish national standards for the use of force," he said. "We can assure true accountability for police brutality and for racial profiling."

But, in a particularly odd moment, Ossoff asked the empty podium a question. Since Perdue declined to attend, debate rules said Ossoff gets to ask a question he would have asked Perdue.

"Why does he continue to oppose $1,200 stimulus checks," Ossoff asked, though Perdue wasn't there to respond.

But Perdue's chief of staff did answer on social media tweeting, "except @sendavidperdue supported the #CARES Act to provide direct relief payments."

Perdue voted yes to the CARES Act; though, he said he personally opposed it. Meanwhile, Ossoff was asked what payments should look like for another stimulus and what limits should be imposed.

"I think we shouldn't get bogged down in the details," he said.

Perdue's team later used this one-liner in a statement, saying not wanting to get bogged down in the details shows how "unprepared Ossoff is."

Ossoff took a moment to call Perdue a coward, again, for not showing up to the debate. Perdue's team said Ossoff "lost the debate against himself."

Perdue has declined to debate Ossoff after debating him twice in the general election.