ATLANTE — Georgian Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams exchanged harsh attacks on the Georgian election during the couple’s final debate on Sunday ahead of the Nov. 8 Georgian election, while explaining their positions on abortion and offering visions very different for the state economy.
Kemp avoided an emphatic promise not to sign new abortion restrictions, 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 those when the time comes.”
Abrams underscored this equivocation, saying, “Let’s be clear, he didn’t say he wouldn’t.”
Kemp criticized Abrams as being inconsistent about the restrictions she would support. Abrams argued 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 restrict most abortions after heart activity is detected in the womb, women could be prosecuted for abortions or having the under investigation after a miscarriage. The governor revealed his wife miscarried one of his twins, while the other survived to become his eldest daughter, calling it a “tragic and traumatic situation”.
Abrams, however, said that was up to local law enforcement and district attorneys and it was unclear whether local authorities would not attempt prosecution. Abrams said women “shouldn’t worry about the sheriff coming knocking on the door asking if they had an illegal abortion.”
Although Kemp and Abrams took issue with specific issues throughout the 60-minute debate, they reserved their most personal back and forth for a discussion of voting rights, exposing the origins of a rivalry that dates back to the when Kemp was Secretary of State and Abrams. was a member of the State House, before each ran for governor in 2018.
Kemp’s version is that he made it “easy to vote and hard to cheat” in Georgia, while Abrams has spent “the last 10 years telling you it’s not.” He added that she has “benefited personally from this run”, noting Abrams’ personal financial success since losing in 2018.
Abrams responded that Kemp “has spent 16 years attacking voting rights in Georgia,” most recently with the 2021 Elections Act overhaul which, among its provisions, enacted new rules regarding mail-in voting.
Kemp noted that the total number of early votes had already reached 1.6 million, far surpassing 2018, with early voting continuing through Friday. He also pointed to record turnout in the two major parties’ primaries earlier this year — points that Abrams says obscure other state actions that she says have made it harder for people to vote.
“The fact that people are voting is despite SB 202, not because of it,” she said, referring to GOP election law. “It was never about making sure we had fair elections in Georgia. It was about playing the election of Brian Kemp so he could keep people away from the polling station.
Kemp took credit for rising wages and low unemployment while blaming sustained inflation on the “disastrous” policies of Democrats in Washington, while Abrams skirted his party’s role in the federal government and pointed the finger at Kemp.
“We have the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history,” he said. “We have the largest number of working people in our state’s history. We see economic opportunity in every region of our state.
Kemp touted his use of state and federal funds to suspend gasoline taxes and provide income tax refunds, reiterating his commitment to seek more income tax refunds as well as tax refunds land for a second term.
Abrams argued that Kemp’s economy did not stimulate enough Georgians. She pointed to his proposals to spend the state surplus on raises for teachers and some law enforcement officers, expand Medicaid, bolster child care programs for working parents, among other proposals.
“Right now people are feeling economic pain, and unfortunately under this governor that pain is getting worse,” Abrams said.
Kemp and Abrams drew sharp distinctions on crime, with the Republican governor attempting to cast Abrams as a supporter of the “defund the police” movement and touting his endorsements of dozens of sheriffs across the state.
“He lies again. I never said I believed in defunding the police. I believe in public safety and accountability,” Abrams countered, pointing to his proposals to spend more on law enforcement with Kemp.
While Kemp highlighted his administration’s efforts to reduce gang activity and violence in Georgia, Abrams criticized the administration for not thinking “holistically” about the root causes of crime, blaming the easing of gun legislation by Kemp of an increase in violence.
“What worries me most is that you’re downplaying death,” Abrams said. “People are dying from gun violence in the state of Georgia; children die. It’s the number one killer of our children.
Kemp defended his policy, saying he provided aid to state and local law enforcement, but that the rising violence was ultimately not his fault.
“We are not the local police department. I am not the mayor. I am the governor,” Kemp retorted, adding that local law enforcement “knows I will support them.”
Sunday’s game was the third overall debate between the two rivals. They only met once in 2018, with then-Secretary of State Kemp skipping a second debate to attend a rally with then-President Donald Trump.
Kemp is leading in most polls, but Abrams says his goal of getting infrequent Democratic voters out may be missed by the polls.
Unlike the first governor’s debate on Oct. 17, Sunday night’s event did not feature libertarian Shane Hazel, the third candidate on the ballot. Hazel has interrupted this debate several times trying to make her point because she hasn’t been asked as many questions. Hazel’s presence on the ballot means there may be a runoff on December 6, as Georgia law requires candidates to secure an absolute majority.
Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.
Follow AP coverage of the midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.
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