Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue has declined an invitation to debate Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff ahead of the January runoff election for his seat, CNN has learned, and will instead be represented by an empty podium.
Perdue declined an invitation to participate in a December 6 debate with his Democratic rival, said MaryLynn Ryan, the chair of the Atlanta Press Club, which is hosting two separate debates for both Senate runoffs.
Ossoff's campaign told CNN they have accepted the Press Club's invitation, with Ossoff tweeting Sunday, "Looks like Sen. David Perdue is too much of a coward to debate me again. ... Senator, come on out and try to defend your record. I'm ready to go."
The senior senator from Georgia drew fire after withdrawing from a debate just before Election Day, following a debate that saw Ossoff label Perdue a "crook" and Perdue accuse Ossoff of profiting off China. Instead, Perdue attended a Trump rally in northwest Georgia.
"The runoff in Georgia is an extension of the November 3rd general election, where 52 percent of Georgians voted against Jon Ossoff and his radical agenda. Perdue had a commanding first place win, outpacing Ossoff by over 85,000 votes — in nearly every other state, Perdue would have been re-elected already," Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry told CNN in a statement on Sunday.
Ossoff responded during a Sunday rally in the Atlanta suburbs, calling a debate "the bare minimum" voters should expect from candidates.
In a statement, the Atlanta Press Club announced Sunday evening Perdue will be represented by an empty podium, a detail first reported by Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Perdue and Ossoff are headed for a January 5 runoff after neither candidate was able to garner 50% of the vote on Election Day. Since then, the Georgia Republican has thrown himself behind Present Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud, joining fellow Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in calling on Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign.
But in interviews, Perdue has acknowledged President-elect Joe Bien's victory, warning that retaining the two Georgia Senate seats headed for a runoff would serve as "the last line of defense against this liberal socialist agenda the Democrats will perpetrate."
"What's at stake is this is that (Senate minority leader Chuck) Schumer will change the rules in the Senate," Perdue told Fox Business in an interview Sunday, "so they can do anything they want with 50 votes plus the vice president's vote as a tiebreaker." In the event of a tie in the Senate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast deciding votes.
The Atlanta Press Club said invitations have also been sent to the Loeffler campaign and her challenger, Rev. Raphael Warnock, to participate in a separate debate on the same day. Warnock's campaign has tentatively agreed, while Loeffler's campaign has yet to respond. Warnock released a statement Monday morning pushing for three debates total with Loeffler, including the event hosted by the Atlanta Press Club.
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.