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Tamar Hallerman

Johnny Isakson relies on old defense to counter new campaign criticism: I’m focusing on me

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Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., speaks to members of the University of Georgia's Student Veterans Resource Center, Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, in Athens, Ga. The down-ballot Senate race involving the affable, two-term Isakson was not ranked as poachable for Democrats despite the changing demographics in the southern state and the higher, diverse turnout of a presidential election year. (John Roark/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., speaks to members of the University of Georgia’s Student Veterans Resource Center, Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, in Athens, Ga. (John Roark/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

WARNER ROBINS — U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson on Wednesday defended his decision to participate in only one televised debate before Election Day, relying on a similar explanation he’s used in recent months to put distance between himself and Donald Trump.

To paraphrase the mantra: I’m focusing on me and nobody else.

“I’ve run five times statewide,” the Republican incumbent said in an interview, suggesting that voters are already well aware of his record. “My job is to promote me and not (Democrat) Jim Barksdale. His job is to promote himself. I don’t know how else to respond to that.”

Barksdale, a political newcomer who’s looking to build name recognition, had challenged Isakson to six one-on-one debates in different media markets across the state. He and the race’s other candidate, Libertarian Allen Buckley, chastised Isakson last week for only agreeing to one debate, the Atlanta Press Club’s Oct. 21 matchup. The two separately argued that the two-term incumbent was shirking the press and harming the political process by only agreeing to one debate.

Isakson’s debate defense is quite similar to the one he’s broken out whenever he’s hounded by reporters looking for responses to Trump’s latest headline-grabbing comments.

“I can’t control the media. I can’t control who the presidential candidates are and I can’t control what people are going to say, but I can control me,” he said Wednesday. That response has largely kept him out of trouble as he tries to thread a political needle between GOP and independent voters who love and loathe Trump.

For his part, Isakson said he agreed to the Press Club debate because “I know it’s going to be fair and more balanced and not be a trick one way or another.”

Isakson also went after Barksdale for the Democrat’s recent claims that he’s inaccessible.

“I haven’t seen Jim Barksdale,” he said. “He goes to Democratic Party meetings and that’s about all I hear about him. I’ve done 131 interviews, I’ve done a bunch of press conferences. You’ve never found a time you couldn’t find me, I don’t think. I think to say I’m hiding from something is a little bit ridiculous.”

Insiders note: We’re spending time with all three of Georgia’s U.S. Senate candidates this week and will have takes from both Barksdale and Buckley in the days ahead.