Democrat Jon Ossoff has declined to take a series of Sixth District debates with Republican Karen Handel to the national stage, sending word that he will not participate in a June 13 Atlanta Press Club event that CNN had proposed to broadcast.
That means the only likely televised comparisons between the two candidates will occur next week: Tuesday on WSB-TV and Thursday on WABE Radio/PBA 30, an Atlanta-based PBS TV station.
A June 15 debate on WSB Radio that's co-hosted by the North Fulton Chamber remains a possibility.
APC President Lauri Strauss this morning confirmed Ossoff’s decision to skip the CNN debate in a statement that includes this:
The Atlanta Press Club has a 25-year history of providing Georgia voters fair and balanced debates through its Loudermilk-Young Debate Series.
We regret Jon Ossoff has declined to be a part of this debate, which would have helped inform the voters of Georgia's Sixth Congressional District and engaged viewers around the country.
Shortly after his first-place finish in April, Ossoff had challenged Handel to six debates. Handel countered with four dates last week. One of them was the proposed confrontation sponsored by CNN and the APC.
Strauss’ statement did not say why Ossoff had decided to avoid a side-by-side comparison on national TV, but an email from Ossoff spokewoman Amy Mesner to Mark Preston, CNN's executive director for political programming, provides a hint:
We're committed to participating in debates moderated by members of the metro Atlanta press corps, so unfortunately Jon will not be attending the proposed debate on June 13th. Sorry we couldn't come to an agreement.
Handel's campaign scoffed at the decision.
"We know why a caricature candidate who has spent more than $10 million on TV ads suddenly doesn't want the exposure of a national audience," said spokesman Charlie Harper. "His fictitious narrative and flimsy resume won't stand up to scrutiny."
Ossoff's campaign pointed to a May 31 statement in which he repeated his support for six local debates and "expressed disappointment" that Handel declined to participate in a showdown hosted by CBS 46.
As we’ve pointed out before, Ossoff has had a strategy of keeping his personal message local, concentrating on federal spending and economic development. The Democrat left it to others, including high-spending Super PACs, to characterize his campaign as a protest against the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
That separation, his campaign might be thinking, would be harder to maintain under questioning that would have likely been dominated by national correspondents from CNN