In the key Georgia congressional race, Republican Karen Handel claims she is declining a debate invitation because of a "scheduling conflict," but suspiciously, her campaign only noticed the conflict immediately after being informed the debate would be open to the public.
The special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District continues to heat up, with massive grassroots organizing and outside groups pouring money and resources into the race. Neither Democratic underdog Jon Ossoff nor pro-Trump culture warrior Karen Handel shows any sign of pulling away with a strong lead, with still more than a month to go before Georgia voters head to the polls.
However, hot on the heels of being forced to apologize for her husband's retweet of a hideously racist meme, Handel has gotten herself into yet another controversy.
Shortly after the first round of voting, Ossoff challenged Handel to a series of six debates. Initially, Handel's campaign agreed to the request, stating, "We welcome any chance to highlight Jon Ossoff's inexperience and are excited to have a robust debate on the issues."
The first debate was scheduled to be at the Dunwoody Homeowner's Association. But at the last minute, according to the local Reporter Newspapers, Handel abruptly told DHA President Robert Wittenstein she was backing out:
"I heard [May 7] from the Handel campaign that they are not going to accept our invitation; the reason that they gave was they a have a scheduling conflict," Wittenstein told about a dozen DHA board members who booed when they heard there was not going to be a debate.
"But the email exchange just prior to that was …their question of whether or not [the debate] would be open to the public or if it was going to be restricted to Dunwoody residents or members of the DHA," he said. "When I told them it would be open to the public, the next response was we have a scheduling conflict."
Handel's choice to back out immediately after learning that the debate was open to the public is a very poor look — especially considering that Ossoff went out of his way to make himself available to the DHA president.
So far, despite her campaign's continued promises, Handel has not given a firm yes to any of the proposed debates:
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) May 8, 2017
DCCC spokesman Evan Lukaske issued a statement on Handel's withdrawal from the debate:
Why doesn’t Karen Handel doesn’t want to debate Jon Ossoff? Because the debate stage would reveal the stark difference between the two candidates for all to see. On one side will be Ossoff, who has been campaigning vigorously since day one and has an extensive understanding about the issues facing the district. On the other will be career politician Karen Handel, who has been absent from the campaign trail and thought she could win on name recognition alone. It’s no wonder Handel is desperate to avoid that spectacle.
Ossoff has already proven himself adept at shrugging off right-wing attacks and hammering the issues, attributes that would likely play to his advantage in a debate. Handel's seeming fussiness about how the debate audience is vetted, and her general hesitancy to take the stage, is a stark contrast to Ossoff's earnest desire to engage with the people.