Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican nominee for governor, abruptly pulled out of a pre-scheduled final debate Wednesday night so he could join President Donald Trump at a campaign rally.
The debate had been set to feature Kemp, who is also Georgia’s outgoing secretary of state, as well as his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, and had been scheduled to take place Sunday night. The decision to cancel the event comes just days shy of the 2018 midterm elections.
In response to the abrupt cancellation, the Abrams campaign was apoplectic.
“We refuse to callously take Georgians for granted and cancel on them,” Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said, according to the New York Times. “Just because Brian Kemp breaks his promises doesn’t mean anyone else should.”
When Kemp suggested rescheduling the debate for 7:30 p.m. Monday — the night before Election Day — Abrams said, “We believe it would be irresponsible to break our commitment to accommodate his failures.”
But before the proverbial ink on the statement had even dried, Kemp’s spokesperson, Ryan Mahoney, had already foisted the blame for the failed debate onto the Abrams camp, saying that while the Republican’s campaign had “offered multiple days, times and venues to debate,” Abrams was “ducking Georgia voters because she can’t defend her extreme, radical agenda on live television.”
The debate drama injects an added layer of tension into an already sour election cycle in Georgia during which Abrams — a longtime crusader for voting rights in the state who would become the first black woman governor in U.S. history if elected — has repeatedly accused Kemp of leading a widespread campaign of voter suppression that disproportionately targets people of color.
In October, an Associated Press investigation concluded that the “exact match” law, which purges would-be voters from the rolls for minor discrepancies between their government-issued documents and their voter registration applications, had landed the names of more than 53,000 Georgians on a “pending” list that was being held up by Kemp’s office.
With recent polls showing the candidates are essentially locked in a dead heat to occupy Georgia’s governor’s mansion come January, both have received a lift from prominent public figures in recent days.
In addition to appearing alongside Trump on Wednesday night, Kemp will also enjoy support from Vice President Mike Pence, who will hit the campaign trail for the Republican candidate in November.
Meanwhile, Abrams has been enjoying some high-profile endorsements of her own — on Oct. 26, comedian Will Ferrell and his wife, Viveca Paulin-Ferrell, knocked on doors in support of the Democrat, just days before Oprah Winfrey announced she planned to host two town halls in Georgia to promote Abrams.
Nov. 6, 2018, 3:35 p.m.: This story has been updated.