Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams’ one-on-one debate Sunday centered heavily on crime, guns and public safety, with the underdog Democratic candidate trying to pin increased violent crime on the incumbent.
“I would encourage people to indeed look at the governor’s record. Under his four years, violent crime has gone up, gun violence has gone up,” Abrams, a Democrat, said in response to the first question on crime. “This is a statewide challenge and we have a governor who’s only focusing on parts of the issue.”
Kemp, for his part, linked Abrams to the now politically toxic “defund the police” movement — with Abrams countering that he was “lying” — and cited his office’s efforts to partner with local law enforcement agencies to tackle gun violence, gang violence, street racing and other crimes.
And the Republican repeatedly returned to a common refrain in the Sunday night debate: “It looks like Miss Abrams is going to attack my record because she doesn’t want to talk about her own record.”
It was the second and final faceoff between the two Georgia gubernatorial candidates before Election Day, amounting to a rematch of 2018. Abrams, despite her national profile and fundraising chops, has consistently lagged behind Kemp in the polls by a far wider margin than the 1.4 percent gap she lost by four years ago. If Abrams’ campaign was hoping for a definitive debate moment that would reverse the election’s needle, it likely came away disappointed.
Kemp repeatedly sought to convince viewers that Abrams was looking to defund the police, citing a 2020 cable news interview in which Abrams said she was in favor of reallocating some resources from police officers to other areas. Kemp has used this clip in ads already this cycle.
He also reiterated, as he did in the first debate, that Abrams is on the board of a non-profit organization that is not opposed to the “defund the police” movement.
“I believe in public safety. I did not say and nor do I believe in defunding police,” Abrams countered. “He is lying again. And I’ve never said that I believe in defunding the police. I believe in public safety and accountability. And I would have you look at my record, 11 years in the state legislature.”
And at other points of the debate, hosted by WSB-TV, she highlighted the work she’s done through other non-profits, such as paying off the medical debts of 68,000 Georgians and installed Wi-Fi hotspots to provide internet access in more than 100 parts of the state.
Abrams criticized Kemp over his signing of a new gun law that makes it easier to carry a concealed weapon in Georgia, arguing that the new gun law cost the city of Atlanta the opportunity to host the Midtown Music Festival because of public safety concerns.
Kemp countered that other large events have been held in Atlanta since the law was passed, highlighting that the Democratic National Committee is currently scouting out the city of Atlanta to host the 2024 convention.
“If things are so bad, why would that be the case?” Kemp asked.
Additionally, the two sparred over abortion and inflation, with both candidates trying to tie the other to more controversial members of their respective parties. Abrams said Kemp “defends Herschel Walker, but will not defend the women of Georgia,” referring to the Republican Senate candidate who opposes abortion access but has been accused of paying for the abortions of two ex-girlfriends.
And on inflation, Kemp lumped in Abrams with President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings have remained underwater for months and is not seen favorably when it comes to handling economic issues, according to regular polling from POLITICO/Morning Consult this cycle.
Georgia has yet again become a national focal point, both for the gubernatorial and Senate elections. Should Abrams pull an upset and win the race, she would be the country’s first Black woman governor. The Senate race between Walker and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D), however, remains neck and neck and will be key to determining which party controls the chamber come 2023.
Since early voting started, Abrams has been bolstered by celebrity fly-ins on the campaign trail, including former President Barack Obama, who hosted an early voting rally in Atlanta last Friday night, actress Kerry Washington and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
More than 1.6 million Georgians have already cast their ballots for the November election in the early voting period, which ends on Friday, Nov. 4.
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