5 takeaways from the Abrams-Kemp debate in Georgia

Monday’s debate lineup included Senate contests in Ohio and Utah. See our coverage of the JD Vance-Tim Ryan Debateand read 5 takeaways from Utah.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams, the Democrat he narrowly defeated in 2018 and is challenging him again in 2022, have spent the past four years preparing for a rematch.

Monday night’s debate in Atlanta, the only time during this year’s Georgia gubernatorial campaign where the candidates were scheduled to appear onstage together, was a display of the political animosity the two had for one another. towards the other. Mr. Kemp and Ms. Abrams acquainted themselves with each other’s case — Ms. Abrams on Mr. Kemp’s tenure as Governor (and, before that, Secretary of State and State Senator), and Mr. Kemp largely on Ms. Abrams’ statements. done as a candidate and as Georgia’s top Democratic political organizer.

The debate, which also included a low-poll Libertarian candidate, Shane Hazel, was a grounding hour that allowed Mr. Kemp and Ms. Abrams to demonstrate the stark differences between them. Few undecided voters who watched would be confused as to how either would seek to govern.

Each candidate survived the debate without making major mistakes, although Ms Abrams at one point apologized for “my outburst” after interrupting Mr Kemp.

Here are five key points from the debate:

Republicans across the country describe President Biden’s America as a hellish landscape marked by inflation and crime that can only be saved by conservative policies. But not in Georgia.

Mr. Kemp described his state, after nearly four years of leadership, as a place with a thriving economy, new businesses setting up shop and fully funded police departments effectively tackling local crime.

Elsewhere, Democrats are arguing that things are looking pretty good right now. Trillions of dollars in new federal spending have kept the economy afloat and are helping to keep people working. But not in Georgia.

Ms Abrams went through an endless list of local ills she attributed to Mr Kemp, including rising crime, rising property prices and the Chinese government’s takeover of large swathes of farmland in the state.

“We live in a state of fear,” she said. “And this is a governor who for the past four years has beaten his chest but delivered very little for most Georgians.”

For each candidate, taking the opposite view of his national party involves a certain risk. Mr. Kemp’s fair-weather approach flies in the face of the message Republican voters are hearing in their siled media environment. But Ms. Abrams, who is trailing in the polls, is blocking getting any help from Mr. Biden or the National Democrats by pointing out to voters that things are terrible.

Ms Abrams would be the first black female governor of any state if elected, and she hasn’t been shy about the role race plays in Georgian politics. At the beginning of the debate, an exchange on crime and the police gave him the opportunity to highlight this dynamic.

Mr. Kemp has been aiming to link Ms. Abrams to the defund the police movement since she endorsed police reform at the height of protests against police brutality in the summer of 2020. During the second round of the debate , when candidates can ask a question another question, he asked how many members of law enforcement in Georgia had supported his campaign. She responded by suggesting Mr. Kemp’s support came from long-established centers of power in the state.

“I don’t have the luxury of being part of a good old boys club, where we don’t focus on the needs of our people,” Ms Abrams replied, alluding to the state’s history in matter of electing white men. .

She has used similar language in recent ads, including one airing today in Georgia that talks about what she would do with the state’s $5 billion budget surplus. “I’ll never be part of the alumni club, but that’s okay,” she said.

Never mind the question – Mr. Kemp tried to answer that he had reopened businesses and schools in Georgia earlier than any other state in 2020.

Asked about racial disparities, the local economy, expanding Medicaid or what to do in the event of a state budget surplus, Mr. Kemp reminded viewers that he had rushed to open state economy before federal public health experts — and even, at the time, President Donald J. Trump — thought it was prudent.

Mr. Kemp said Georgia was the first state to reopen “small parts” of the state that had closed during the pandemic. “Our recovery has been as good as any state in the country. We have had two record years of economic development, due to our business environment, working with the General Assembly, to ensure that we put Georgians and Georgian businesses and Georgian workers first.

For Mr. Kemp, this tactic served a dual purpose. It allowed him to attack Ms Abrams for preaching caution who now feels out of step with an electorate vastly above pandemic bounds, and it allowed him to remind elements of his political base who are still loyal to Mr. Trump that it was he, Mr. Kemp, who was most in tune with them on what to do in response to Covid.

In a debate loaded with political discussion, the one on guns provided a lucid look at where each candidate stands.

Mr. Kemp signed a law in 2022 that allows anyone in the state to carry a firearm without a license. Ms. Abrams has made the law one of her top critics of the governor’s political agenda, saying it endangers Georgians and could lead to more mass shootings like the one in 2021, where a man gunman killed eight people when he opened fire in several Asian towns in the Atlanta area. spas. Mr Kemp defended the law, saying it helps vulnerable people defend themselves, including black Americans and women, two groups he cited.

“Criminals are the only ones with guns,” he argued, railing against “local governments blocking concealed weapons permits.”

He went on to say that anyone who bought a gun was subject to a federal background check – a point which Ms Abrams was quick to correct, intervening to say that gun purchases at sales private homes and gun shows did not require background checks. She later apologized to Mr. Kemp for the interruption.

We’ve seen it before, we’ll see it again: An unsung candidate made a memorable appearance during a debate that focused almost exclusively on the others on stage.

Add Georgia’s Shane Hazel to a list that includes the Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High guy and the time Jim Webb casually mentioned he killed someone.

Ahead of his prime-time debut, Mr. Hazel was last seen taking 28% in a 2018 Republican primary for a seat in suburban Atlanta House. He spent his speaking time Monday calling on Georgia to adopt a purist libertarian philosophy: end public education, eliminate virtually all policing, legalize drugs and halt property taxes. It was a performance that often baffled Mr Kemp and Ms Abrams as he made references to “Austrian economics” that few people ignorant of libertarian principles would grasp.

Still, Mr. Hazel could play an outsized role in the election. Georgia law requires a winner to receive at least 50% of the vote. If Mr Hazel gets enough votes from the two leading candidates – and, more plausibly, Mr Kemp – it could force them into a runoff in December and another month of campaigning. If another debate takes place, it will not include Mr. Hazel.