Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Governor Brian Kemp met on the debate stage for the second time during the Oct. 17 gubernatorial debate in Georgia. They were joined by the Libertarian Party’s Shane Hazel, who made a surprising splash at the event. When Abrams and Kemp first clashed in a contest for leadership of the Peach State in 2018, neither figure was very well known. This time, however, the two are practically household names and they used the debate to do as all political hopefuls endeavor: extol their virtues while playing the blame game with their opponents.
Abrams and Kemp
The night’s first question came from journalist Chuck Williams. He asked Abrams why she has been behind in almost every public poll in Georgia even though she is on the side of public opinion regarding some top concerns, such as abortion, Medicaid expansion, and banning assault weapons. “Polls are a snapshot. The question is, who are they taking a picture of?” the progressive contender responded, avoiding the matter of her unpopularity. “I’m on the right side of history and the right side of the issues.”
One of the most significant lines of questioning probed Abrams on whether she would accept the outcome of the November elections, since she didn’t concede defeat after losing to Kemp in 2018. She was also asked if she would use the same terminology as she has before, including words such as “rigged.” With the Jan. 6 Committee hearings accusing former President Donald Trump of making the same type of claim, this inquiry hit the mark. Abrams argued, “I will always acknowledge the outcome of elections, but I will never deny access to every voter.” She accused Kemp of preventing Americans from voting, saying, “voter suppression is the hallmark of Brian Kemp’s leadership.”
The governor countered with, “Ms. Abrams is just going to do a lot of attacking of my record tonight because she doesn’t want to talk about her own record.” He suggested the 2018 governor’s race had the “largest African American turnout in the country” and that he implemented online voter registration to make it easier for all Georgians to register to vote. “In Georgia, it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Kemp insisted.
Another touchy issue was public safety, specifically with regard to police officers. The governor asked Ms. Abrams how many sheriffs endorsed her and her campaign. The Democrat retorted, “I have to have conversations with the entirety of Georgia. I don’t have the luxury of being part of the good ‘ole boys club where we don’t focus on the needs of our people.”
Kemp pointed out, however, that Abrams’ apparent soft-on-crime stance has alienated the state’s law enforcement personnel. “No sheriffs are endorsing her statewide because of her stances on wanting to defund the police, eliminate cash bail, and serving on the boards of organizations like the Marguerite Casey Foundation that supports and gives grants to organizations that are promoting the defund-the-police movement,” he said.
Abrams spoke about the racial-minority gap in business and claimed that the way things were going, it would take another one hundred years to bring equality. Kemp said that while she criticized him for keeping businesses open during COVID, Georgia had the “lowest unemployment rate in the country for African Americans” and was in the “top ten in the states for black entrepreneurship.”
An Unexpected Turn
What wasn’t likely expected, though, was the way Libertarian Shane Hazel seemed to steal the show, taking control of the debate and making his arguments heard – despite the moderator’s attempts to control the discussion. A contentious recurring topic was the handling of COVID and lockdowns, as well as how early the governor lifted restrictions. Ms. Abrams insisted that she disapproved of lifting the constraints for health and safety measures, while Mr. Kemp said his actions helped the economy, business owners, and the people.
Mr. Hazel, who used the royal “we” when responding to inquiries, asked a startling question that had more than a few people blinking in confusion. After talking about deaths from the coronavirus, he turned to the governor and asked: “Do you want to say sorry to anybody?” He said there should never have been any kind of limits or closures and then added:
“I think the left and right are fascists, communist socialists, whereas we’re talking about real liberty. Trusting Georgians with those decisions.”
Current polls don’t give much hope for the libertarian who has maybe 2% leaning in his favor, but he made it clear that his end game is to force a runoff vote so that neither of the leading two candidates gains an immediate win on November 8.
Bracing for the Numbers
In 2018, Abrams and Kemp were neck-and-neck in the governor’s race, but at that time, people did not know much about either candidate. Four years later, Georgians have had a chance to get to know them – as well as their campaigns and promises. While Abrams may be leading on concerns such as abortion, the voting public has prioritized inflation and the economy as critical topics this cycle. Governor Kemp is maintaining a solid five-point lead over his challenger with just three weeks to go. If the incumbent can maintain his footing until November, this event may prove to be Stacey Abrams’ swan song.
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