Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams offered different visions for Georgia in a political-heavy debate Sunday during the pair’s final meeting as Georgians continue to vote ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Kemp avoided an unequivocal pledge not to sign further restrictions on abortion, saying “it’s not my desire to go and move the needle any further.” But he acknowledged that more restrictions could be passed by a Republican legislature, saying “we’ll look at them when the time comes.”
Abrams said, “Let’s be clear, he didn’t say he wouldn’t.”
Kemp criticized Abrams as being inconsistent in the restrictions she would support. Abrams maintained that she had not changed her position and said she would support legal abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb.
Kemp denied claims by Democrats that under Georgia’s abortion restrictions, which limit most abortions after heart activity is detected in the womb, women could be prosecuted for abortions or investigated after miscarriages. The governor revealed that his wife had miscarried one of the twins, while the other survived to become his eldest daughter, calling it a “tragic, traumatic situation”.
Abrams, however, said it was up to local law enforcement and district attorneys and that it was unclear that local authorities would not attempt prosecutions. “They don’t have to worry about the knock on the door, the sheriff coming to ask if they’ve had an illegal abortion,” Abrams said of the women.
Kemp took credit for rising wages and low unemployment while blaming lingering inflation on “disastrous” policies by Democrats in Washington, while Abrams sidestepped her party’s role in the federal government and pointed the finger at Kemp.
“We have the lowest unemployment rate in the history of our state,” he said. “We have the most people working ever in the history of our state. We see economic opportunities in all parts of our state.”
Kemp advocated using state and federal funds to suspend gasoline taxes and issue income tax credits, reiterating his pledge to seek more income tax credits plus property tax credits in a second term.
Abrams argued that Kemp’s economy has not stimulated Georgians enough. He pointed to her proposals to spend the state surplus on raises for teachers and some law enforcement officers, expand Medicaid, strengthen child care programs for working parents, among other proposals.
“Right now people are feeling financial pain, and unfortunately under this governor, that pain is getting worse,” Abrams said.
Kemp and Abrams have been even more vocal about crime, with the Republican governor trying to paint Abrams as a supporter of the “defund the police” movement and touting his endorsements from dozens of sheriffs across the state.
“He’s lying again. I have never said I believe in defunding the police. I believe in public safety and accountability,” Abrams countered, underscoring her proposals to spend more on law enforcement with Kemp.
While Kemp emphasized his administration’s push to curb gang activity and violence in Georgia, Abrams criticized the administration for not thinking “holistically” about the root causes of crime, which he noted has increased in Georgia during his tenure. Kemp.
“We are not the local police department. I’m not a mayor. I’m the governor,” Kemp replied, adding that local law enforcement “knows I’ll have their back.”
Sunday’s match was the third debate overall between the two rivals. They met only once in 2018, with Kemp, then secretary of state, skipping a second debate to attend a rally with then-President Donald Trump.
This year, Kemp built on his tenure, arguing that managing the economy warrants another term. The Republican has made only a handful of proposals for a second term — more one-time tax cuts, a grant plan to help schools improve student performance and public safety proposals, including requiring cash bail for more people arrested. Kemp has married this thin set of propositions with attacks on Abrams, arguing that he doesn’t support the police enough and is a “celebrity” who focuses too much on liberal out-of-state donors.
Abrams argues that she has a better long-term vision for Georgia’s economy, pledging a much larger teacher pay raise than the $5,000 Kemp delivered, an expanded Medicaid program, increased access to government contracts for small and minority businesses and broader access to college help is paid for by gambling. He has also argued that he would lift abortion restrictions and loosen gun laws signed by Kemp and prevent further changes.
Kemp leads in most polls, but Abrams argues that her focus on turning out rare Democratic voters may be lost in the polls.
Unlike the first gubernatorial debate on Oct. 17, Sunday night’s event did not feature Libertarian Shane Hazell, the third candidate on the ballot. Hazel interrupted the conversation several times trying to make his points because he wasn’t being asked that many questions. Hazel’s presence on the ballot means there is likely to be a runoff on Dec. 6 because Georgia law requires candidates to win an outright majority.
More than 4 million people could vote in state elections this year, and more than half are likely to vote before Election Day. More than 1.6 million people had voted by Saturday and more than 1.7 million requested ballots by mail. Early in-person voting runs through Friday.
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