Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams squared off in their second and final gubernatorial debate on Sunday night, with just over a week to go until Election Day amid record early voting .
They argued over the state’s economy, abortion rights and, a sign of the race’s national implications, which party should be blamed for the country’s woes.
Kemp led most of the polls in the race, but Abrams – who came within a few thousand votes of pushing their 2018 race to a second round – has a strong base of support and has managed to help mobilize Democrats in his campaigns and those of other high-ranking Democratic candidates, including President Joe Biden and the Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in their 2020 campaigns.
There are 36 states voting for governor this year, 20 of which — including Georgia — are Republican-backed. The state legislature is controlled by Republicans who, with Kemp’s endorsement, signed into law an abortion bill three years ago that bans the procedure as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, with some exceptions. . Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned by the Supreme Court, this law is in effect and further restrictions may be on the way.
Abrams sharply criticized Kemp on the issue, noting his refusal to make it clear whether he would sign new legislation from anti-abortion Republicans. Kemp, in turn, has repeatedly sought to pivot the conversation on the economy — particularly inflation and Georgia’s relative prosperity despite it — while trying to portray Abrams as a progressive radical who wants to remove the police funding. (His position is considerably more complicated.)
Here are five takeaways from the second Georgia gubernatorial debate:
Is Georgia booming, as Kemp says, or is it nearing a calamitous collapse, as Abrams argued?
The candidates painted starkly different portraits of the state’s economic situation, with Kemp pointing to higher wages and low unemployment — and blaming any pain on inflation, which he attributed to Democratic policies in Washington — while ‘Abrams singled out a low minimum wage and Kemp’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion funds under Obamacare as twin albatrosses carried by Georgia’s working class.
Kemp summed up his views at the start and end of the debate. His closing statement applauded the “lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history,” “the most people ever working in our state’s history,” and “the economic opportunity, no matter your zip code or neighborhood, as we focused on strengthening rural Georgia and more.
Abrams saw something radically different.
“The economic pain people are feeling is real,” Abrams said. “As governor, not only will I cut costs, I’ll put more money in the pockets of working Georgians, middle-class Georgians, but I won’t just give tax cuts to the wealthy. and to the mighty.”
Kemp argued that the state’s one-time billion dollar tax credit this year was only possible because of his maneuvering during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when he was among the first to reopen businesses, and pointed to a recent gas tax holiday as emblematic of his work to make life more affordable for middle-class voters.
Where that failed, he tried to blame it on the north – on the White House.
“The problem (facing Georgians) is that (wages) aren’t growing fast enough to keep up with Joe Biden’s inflation,” Kemp replied when Abrams challenged his description of the state’s economic situation. .
In a sense, the abortion debate has stalled in Georgia. The state has a books law, passed three years ago, that prohibits the procedure after about six weeks. And with the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, it’s now in effect.
But Abrams and the debate moderators had another question for Kemp: With no federal limits in place, would the Republican, if reelected, sign new restrictions into law?
Kemp didn’t give a straight yes or no answer, saying he didn’t want to prejudge “a specific bill without seeing exactly what it does,” before adding, “It’s not not my desire to go back, to move the needle further.
“He didn’t say he wouldn’t,” Abrams replied — pointing to the lingering uncertainty around the issue, which moderators noted remains divisive in the state. where more than half of respondents in a recent survey support abortion rights.
Abrams framed his argument around concerns about privacy and women’s health, describing abortion as “a medical decision”, one that should only be made by “a doctor and a woman, not a politician”.
Kemp, in a back-and-forth on limits and exceptions, described his own wife’s miscarriage and the difficulties they faced having children (he now has three daughters).
“It’s a tragic and traumatic situation,” he said of the miscarriages, pushing back against Abrams’ warning that the state could, under GOP scrutiny, end up investigating women who suspect them of having had an abortion. Kemp denied that the women would ever be punished for undergoing the procedure.
Abrams, seeking to tie the issue to broader concerns about access to health care in the state, noted that under current state law, the ban goes into effect “before the most women don’t know they’re pregnant” — an especially troubling fact given the dwindling number of OB-GYNs in Georgia.
They are not gubernatorial candidates, but they are a priority for many in Georgia.
For Democrats, it’s GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who has become a symbol of what his critics describe as Republican hypocrisy on issues like abortion, support for law enforcement and the business knowledge.
On the Republican side, President Joe Biden is the go-to boogeyman for most economic issues, with GOP candidates and their surrogates relentlessly trying to tie Democratic candidates to the president and the skyrocketing inflation that has occurred. during his tenure.
“Americans are hurting right now because of a disastrous political agenda from Joe Biden and the Democrats who totally control Washington DC,” Kemp said when his economic record came under attack.
Abrams, in turn, called out Kemp’s support for Walker during their abortion battle.
“(Kemp) refuses to defend us and yet he defended Herschel Walker, saying he didn’t want to be involved in his running mate’s personal life, but he doesn’t mind being involved in women’s personal medical choices. in Georgia,” Abrams said.
Walker, who has repeatedly said in the past that he favors a total ban on abortion with no exceptions, is facing allegations from two women who say he urged them to have abortions. Walker denied their allegations.
During their first debate, Abrams said Kemp shouldn’t get too much credit for sticking to the law and not giving in to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to undo his 2020 loss to Georgia.
There was less talk two years ago this time – and virtually no mention of Trump throughout the night – but voting rights, in particular a new law known as SB 202, made headlines. object of scrutiny from Abrams.
“The right to vote is sacred to me. … It’s an abomination, SB 202, that allowed racists, white supremacists to challenge the legal authority of citizens to vote,” she said.
In response to news of record early voting turnout, Abrams argued that “the fact that people are voting is in spite of SB 202, not because of it.”
Kemp, as he did in their first debate, accused Abrams of trying to “manipulate and scare people back home” and defended the state as a place where it’s “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
When asked, both candidates said they would accept the November election results regardless of the outcome – a remarkable question mainly because it has become a staple of campaign debates across the country in following the 2020 elections.
The crime debate, both nationally and in statewide races, tends to follow similar paths.
Republicans criticize Democrats for being soft on crime and tough on the police, often citing the short-lived “defund the police” movement against their opponents. Democrats push back, touting their support for law enforcement, before swinging to GOP opposition to new gun restrictions.
And so it went in Georgia on Sunday night.
“Go check the file, because Ms. Abrams on CNN got asked the question, would she fund the police? And she said, yes, we have to reallocate resources. It means cutting the defunding of the police,” Kemp said.
Abrams denied that claim, saying Kemp was “lying again” about his record — which, indeed, is more nuanced — before turning to the Republican’s record of easing gun restrictions.
“Guns are the number one killer of our children. We have the ninth highest rate of gun violence in the country. Domestic gun violence has increased 18% under this governor, and his response has been to weaken gun laws in the state of Georgia,” Abrams said.
In fact, Abrams and Kemp have gone out of their way during this campaign to emphasize their support for law enforcement. Abrams has offered $25 million in state grants to local agencies that would go to boost police salaries, while Kemp has repeatedly touted his support from top law enforcement officials, the vast majority of whom have endorsed his campaign for a new term.
This story has been updated with additional information.