ATLANTA — Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams offered differing visions for Georgia in a policy-heavy debate on Sunday during the pair’s final meeting as Georgians continue voting leading up to the Nov. 8 election.
Kemp avoided a categorical promise not to sign further abortion restrictions, saying “it’s not my desire to go move the needle any further.” But he acknowledged that more restrictions might be passed by a Republican legislature, saying that “we’ll look at those when the time comes.”
Abrams said, “Let’s be clear, he did not say he wouldn’t.”
Kemp criticized Abrams as inconsistent on what restrictions she would support. Abrams argued 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 cardiac activity can be detected in the womb, women could be prosecuted for abortions or investigated after miscarriages. The governor revealed that his wife had miscarried one of what had been twins, while the other survived to become his eldest daughter, calling it a “tragic, traumatic situation.”
Abrams, though, said it was up to local law enforcement and district attorneys and that it wasn’t clear that local authorities wouldn’t attempt prosecutions. “They should not be worried about the knock on the door is the sheriff coming to ask them if they have had an illegal abortion,” Abrams said of women.
Kemp took credit for wage growth and low unemployment while blaming sustained inflation on “disastrous” policies of 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 ever working in the history of our state. We’re seeing economic opportunity in all parts of our state.”
Kemp touted his use of state and federal funds to suspend gasoline taxes and issue income tax rebates, repeating his pledge to seek more income tax rebates plus property tax rebates in a second term.
Abrams argued that Kemp’s economy hasn’t boosted enough Georgians. She pointed to her proposals to spend the state surplus on raises for teachers and some law enforcement officers, expand Medicaid, boost 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 even sharper distinctions on crime, with the Republican governor attempting to cast Abrams as a supporter of the “defund the police” movement and touting his endorsements from dozens of sheriffs across the state.
“He is lying again. I’ve never said that I believe in defunding the police. I believe in public safety and accountability,” Abrams shot back, highlighting her proposals for spending more on law enforcement with Kemp.
While Kemp highlighted his administration’s push to curtail gang activity and violence in Georgia, Abrams criticized the administration for not thinking “holistically” about the root causes of crime, which she noted has increased in Georgia during Kemp’s term.
“We are not the local police department. I’m not the mayor. I’m the governor,” Kemp shot back, adding that local law enforcement agencies “know I will 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 has relied on his incumbency, arguing that his stewardship of the economy justifies 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 who are arrested. Kemp has married that slender set of proposals with attacks on Abrams, claiming she is insufficiently supportive of police and a “celebrity” overly focused on out-of-state liberal donors.
Abrams argues she has a better longer-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 state contracts for small and minority-owned businesses and broader access to college aid paid for by gambling. She has also argued that she would roll back abortion restrictions and loosened gun laws that Kemp signed and prevent further changes.
Kemp leads in most polls, but Abrams argues that her focus on getting out infrequent Democratic voters may be missed by surveys.
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 interrupted that debate several times trying to make his points because he wasn’t asked as many questions. Hazel’s presence on the ballot means it’s possible that there will be a runoff on Dec. 6, because Georgia law requires candidates to win an absolute majority.
More than 4 million people could vote in the state’s elections this year, and more than half are likely to cast ballots before Election Day. More than 1.6 million people had voted through Saturday, and more than 1.7 million have requested mail ballots. Early in-person voting runs though Friday.