Republican gubernatorial nominee Brian Kemp pulled out of the final Georgia debate to campaign alongside President Donald Trump. The debate was set for 5 p.m. ET on Sunday in Atlanta, but Trump scheduled a campaign rally at 4 p.m. ET in Macon on the same day, which is located nearly 100 miles away.
The debate between Kemp, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Libertarian candidate Ted Metz had been agreed upon and scheduled since September, according to WSB-TV, the Atlanta TV station organizing the debate.
"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," WSB News Director Misti Turnbull said in a statement.
Along with Florida's gubernatorial race, Georgia's competition has been among the most-watched in the country. The candidates appeared during a televised debate on Oct. 23, and current polls show Abrams and Kemp running neck-in-neck.
"The conflict arose on Monday when President Trump announced he was holding a rally for Kemp in Macon at 4 p.m. – one hour before the debate telecast," WSB reported. "On Tuesday, six weeks after agreeing to participate, Kemp canceled his appearance in the debate. Abrams did not pull out."
Kemp had proposed that the long-scheduled Sunday debate be moved to Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET, but Abrams' team was not interested in re-arranging its own campaign schedule to accommodate Kemp's last-minute requests.
"We have repeatedly explained our existing commitments to WSB, and we are disappointed that the Kemp campaign is demanding we renege on our promises. We believe it would be irresponsible to break our commitment to accommodate his failures," Abrams' campaign said in a statement on Wednesday. "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."
In the statement, Abrams' campaign also explained that the Democratic candidate already had plans to be in southeastern Georgia on Monday evening, but will "hold our own event on Sunday in which Stacey will talk with and answer questions from Georgians. That’s what we’ve promised, and that’s what we’ll deliver."
Before Abrams officially declined the Monday offer, Kemp's team attempted to cast blame on the Democrat, accusing her of "ducking Georgia voters."
"We offered multiple days, times and venues to debate," a statement said. "Unfortunately, Stacey Abrams cancelled the WSB-TV debate. Abrams is ducking Georgia voters, because she can't defend her extreme, radical agenda on live television."
Metz said that Kemp's cancelation on account of Trump was "an example of how Brian Kemp has always behaved [when] it comes to bigger opportunities," the New York Times reported.
"Yet even as Democrats attacked Mr. Kemp’s effort to change the debate schedule, there was also a sense in Georgia that the political benefits of an appearance with Mr. Trump could prove greater for Mr. Kemp than the consequences of abandoning another televised exchange featuring the candidates," the Times added. Trump endorsed Kemp this summer before he secured the Republican nomination. Kemp would go on to easily defeat his opponent Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who had the support of the retiring Republican governor.
With Nov. 6 just days away, many high-profile figures are heading to Georgia to campaign for Abrams and Kemp. Vice President Mike Pence is in the state Thursday and so is Oprah Winfrey. Former President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Atlanta on Friday beforeTrump arrives in Georgia later this weekend.