Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp are set to clash on Tuesday in the first debate of their razor-tight gubernatorial race in Georgia.
The race has been marked by sharp attacks from both parties, especially over allegations of voter suppression. Kemp and Abrams are neck-and-neck, according to recent polls, and the race has been rated as a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report.
The two will be joined by libertarian candidate Ted Metz.
Follow along with The Hill’s live coverage of the debate, due to start at 7 p.m. ET.
Kemp goes on attack, Abrams touts bipartisanship in closing statements 8:07 p.m. Kemp during his final remarks went on the attack against Abrams, while the Democratic candidate made an appeal to bipartisanship. Abrams referred to herself as the only candidate with a “strong record of bipartisan leadership,” rattling off her support for “cradle to career” education, small businesses, the agricultural sector and Medicaid expansion. Kemp framed his run as an end to the “craziness” of Abrams’ “extreme” run for governor. The Republican called her campaign “the most extreme Georgians have ever seen” as she is “lying about my record to hide her extreme agenda.” “This race is about the soul of our future,” he concluded with urgency.
Abrams says expanding Medicaid is her ‘day one priority’
Abrams proudly stood by her call for Medicaid expansion as her “day one priority,” calling it the only solution to the issue of disappearing rural hospitals. She said Medicaid is a “program that has proven to be bipartisan” and emphasized again that Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence posts, deletes photo of Trump campaign staff without face masks, not social distancing Pence threatens to deploy military if Pennsylvania governor doesn’t quell looting Pence on Floyd: ‘No tolerance for racism’ in US MORE voted for its expansion when he was governor of Indiana. Abrams, who has been looking to appeal to the state’s moderates, said she has “reached across the aisle” on health care throughout her career.
Voter suppression leads to sharp exchange
Kemp strongly defended himself against allegations his office had sought to suppress voters.
He said he is “absolutely not” using his position as secretary of State to suppress the minority vote, calling the idea that he is doing so a “farce” and a “distraction” from Abram’s “extreme agenda.”
Kemp touted that minority participation is up 23 percent while noting that more people are on voter rolls and elections have seen “record turnout.”
Abrams brought up her family’s history while noting the “right to vote is a right” and saying under Kemp, more people have lost the right to vote while he has also helped create “an atmosphere of fear.”
“Voter suppression isn’t only about blocking the vote. It’s also about creating an atmosphere of fear, making people worry that their votes won’t count,” she said.
Wages for police officers becomes an issue in debate
7:36 p.m. Abrams, in a biting question for Kemp, asked why he does not believe it is the state’s “responsibility” to address the fact that more than 3,000 law enforcement officers in Georgia are on food stamps due to low wages. “Why is it not the governor’s responsibility to ensure that law enforcement officers protecting our state are paid a living wage?” Abrams asked. Kemp responded by invoking his endorsement from Gov. Nathan Deal, who he claimed has dealt with the issue by increasing pay for some law enforcement offices. Abrams shot back by saying that she will always make sure police officers “can put food on their tables while we ask them to protect our families.” Abrams says she helped pass gang violence bill Kemp boasts about 7:45 p.m. Abrams, in response to a question about gang violence, said she helped pass a gang violence bill that Kemp has praised. “Mr. Kemp has praised a bill that was passed to fight gangs as the strongest in the nation,” she said. “I helped pass that bill.” She then segued into her younger brother’s struggles with drug addiction, saying she is “very familiar with the challenges not only of gang violence but also the drug epidemic.” “I have a younger brother who grapples with drug addiction,” she said, the second mention of her brother in the debate so far.
Kemp accuses Abrams of supporting voting by “illegal” immigrants
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Abrams shot back at Kemp’s accusation that she wants people who are in the country “illegally” to vote in elections.
Calling herself “one of the foremost experts in the state on the expansion of voting rights,” Abrams said she has “never in my life asked for anyone who is not legally eligible to vote” to do so.
“What I’ve asked for is that you allow those that are legally eligible to vote, to allow them to cast their ballots,” she continued.
Kemp accuses Abrams of not having previously paid taxes
Kemp sought to make an issue of taxes, accusing Abrams of not having paid taxes even though she’s a tax attorney.
“When you put politics over paying the government the taxes you owe that does make you unfit to be governor,” he said, while also noting “My wife and I have always paid our taxes.”
Abrams responds by explaining that in 2015 and 2016 she became the primary caregiver for her parents. When her father had to pay for cancer treatment, she had to defer taxes.
“You can defer taxes but you can’t defer cancer treatment,” she said.
Kemp, Abrams spar over immigration
7:22 p.m. Kemp and Abrams began sparring over immigration right away, with Kemp standing by his belief that undocumented immigrants do not count as “our own people.” The Republican candidate doubled down on his belief that students benefitting from the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program should not be allowed to receive in-state tuition for the state’s colleges. “I’ve been running my whole campaign on putting Georgians first,” Kemp said. “I think we need to continue to do that.” He criticized Abrams’ support for Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, which can provide financial assistance to undocumented students. Abrams stepped in with a rebuttal, framing the argument as an economic one. She said the HOPE Scholarship can help fuel the state’s economy and address its nursing shortage. “These are young people who were brought here not by their own volition,” she said of DACA recipients. Candidates spar over health care
Abrams touts her “bipartisan” health care plan, promising it would cover half a million Georgians and “will give them the access to health care they need.”
She also said Kemp has no plan for healthcare, “other than saying trust your insurance companies.”
Kemp responds by saying Abrams would make current insurance plans “illegal,” would not allow holders to chose their doctors and said “she would raise your taxes to pay for it.”
Kemp also said Abrams was promoting a “single payer health care plan” and will cut Medicaid and Medicare to pay for it.
“My health care makes premiums more affordable,” he said, while promising it would also lower prescription drug costs.
Kemp also said strongly he supports pre-existing conditions, calling it “absurd” to say otherwise.
And we are back …
“The beauty of live TV,” says one of the moderators as the live stream resumes, with the fire alarm now off.
Fire alarm interrupts the debate
A fire alarm broke out not 10 minutes into the start of the debate. The candidates, looking perplexed, looked to the moderators who said a fire alarm appeared to have been set off.
The debate is now on a break.
Kemp says he will not resign as secretary of state
The first question for Kemp was whether there is an ethical dilemma with his position overseeing the state’s elections during his run for governor.
One of the moderators asked Kemp to respond to calls by Abrams and others for his resignation. “It’s our county elections officials that are actually holding the election that is going on right now,” he said. He said “local, bipartisan election boards” tally the votes that are then sent to his office. Kemp said he would not aside if his tight race with Abrams comes to a recount
Flag-burning comes straight off the bat
Abrams was asked about a 1992 photo from when she was a college freshman showing her burning the state flag, which then contained the confederate symbol.
She said her protests were because she, like others, “were deeply disturbed” by the divisiveness of the flag. She also highlighted the Kemp lated voted in favor of changing the flag.
She then quickly pivoted to the present.
“Im fighting now for Georgia values,” she said, while saying she’s now fighting for things like health care access, education and “good, prosperous jobs.”
All set for what promises to be an interesting debate
All eyes are on the Georgia gubernatorial debate, which pits Abrams, a former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, against Kemp, the current secretary of state.
Likely topics of discussion will include allegations of voter suppression, the role of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE, and what to do about illegal immigration.
Both sides have staked out divergent views on these topics, setting up what should be a good debate.