The final televised debate between Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams (D) and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) has been canceled after the Kemp’s 11th-hour decision to pull out of the Sunday forum. He has decided to campaign that day with President Donald Trump in the city of Macon instead.
Abrams and Kemp, who are running neck-and-neck in the hotly contested race, each blamed the other for the cancellation, which organizer WSB-TV confirmed Wednesday.
“We regret that we had to cancel, but once Secretary Kemp pulled out at the last minute, the candidates could not agree to a new time,” Misti Turnbull, the station’s news director, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In a blistering statement, Abrams suggested Kemp was callously “breaking promises” to Georgians, while a spokesman for Kemp said Abrams had been “offered multiple days, times and venues” as alternatives for their dialogue and was “ducking Georgia voters because she can’t defend her extreme, radical agenda on live television.”
The debate, which would have marked the second time Kemp and Abrams faced off on live TV, had been scheduled to air on WSB at 5 p.m. Sunday. The date and time for the forum had reportedly been determined more than six weeks ago.
WSB told The New York Times on Wednesday that Kemp’s campaign had informed it of the need to reschedule “within the past 24 hours.” The request had come on the heels of the announcement that Trump was planning a rally in Macon an hour before the debate was scheduled to take place.
Kemp reportedly suggested rescheduling the debate for Monday night, but Abrams said she had already made plans to meet with voters in southeastern Georgia at that time.
“We are disappointed that the Kemp campaign is demanding we renege on our promises,” her campaign said in a statement. “We refuse to callously take Georgians for granted and cancel on them. Just because Brian Kemp breaks his promises doesn’t mean anyone else should.”
Georgia’s battle for governor promises to be one of the most closely watched races in next week’s midterms.
Both Kemp and Abrams have received the support of prominent figures from their respective parties. Trump’s earlier endorsement of Kemp helped propel him to victory in a July run-off against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle ― and the president’s continued support is expected to boost Kemp’s chances against Abrams next week. Vice President Mike Pence will also be stumping for Kemp during his visit to Georgia on Thursday.
Abrams, who is vying to become the nation’s first black female governor, boasts a bevy of her own high-profile cheerleaders. Oprah Winfrey, in a rare political endorsement, said she’ll be hitting the campaign trail with Abrams; former President Barack Obama also plans to visit Atlanta on Friday to throw his political clout behind the candidate.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter have all endorsed Abrams, as have celebrities including Will Ferrell (who recently canvassed door-to-door for her), Tracee Ellis Ross, Uzo Aduba, Common and Rashida Jones.
The race hasn’t just been close. It has also been highly contentious. The candidates’ first ― and only, it appears ― debate was heated, with Kemp batting away accusations of voter disenfranchisement.
Voting rights advocacy groups say Kemp, who is in charge of state elections and voter registration as Georgia’s secretary of state, has used his office to suppress votes and sway the election. Kemp has vehemently denied these allegations.
“This farce about voter suppression and people being held up from being on the rolls … is absolutely not true,” Kemp said during the debate last week.
This story has been updated with additional information about the race.