Georgia gubernatorial debate lacked memorable moments, but Abrams was clear winner on the issues

OPINION: Abrams will need strong voter turnout by the Democratic base to overcome the advantages that incumbency confers on Kemp.

Stacey Abrams Brian Kemp
Georgia gubernatorial nominees Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. (Photo: Atlanta Press Club/YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams clashed on the issues of health care, crime, voting rights, education and the economy as they faced off Monday night in the first of two scheduled debates in the state’s gubernatorial election.

If she is elected, Abrams will become the first Black woman in American history to serve as a governor. Four Black men have served as governors, including one during Reconstruction.  

As one of the reporters questioning the candidates pointed out, Abrams’ positions on key issues are more in line than Kemp’s when it comes to the views of most Georgia voters as expressed in opinion polls. 

“I’m on the right side of history and on the right side of the issues,” Abrams declared. She said Kemp “has beat his chest but has delivered very little for most Georgians.” 

Neither candidate scored with a particularly memorable sound bite or made an embarrassing gaffe likely to go viral. I rate Abrams as the winner of the debate because of her positions, which are popular with voters, and because she demonstrated a strong command of the issues.

Abrams pointed out that she served in the state legislature for a decade, including as House Democratic leader, to establish her credibility. She is unquestionably qualified to assume the top job in state government.

Abrams criticized Kemp for not working to promote racial equality between Black and white Georgians, saying, “we need a governor who actually believes in equity.” Kemp simply said his economic policies would help all Georgians.

Kemp spent much of the debate on the defensive, as Abrams criticized him for bills he has signed into law that go against the interest of most Georgians and for refusing to accept federal funds to expand the Medicaid programs that provide health care for people with low incomes.

“Medicaid expansion will allow 500,000 Georgians who are working people to get access to health care,” Abrams said. Kemp called Medicaid “a broken government program.”

Stacey Abrams Governor Georgia
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks to supporters and members of the Rabun County Democrats group on July 28, 2022 in Clayton, Georgia. Abrams is running against current Georgia Governor Brian Kemp the election is to be held on November 8, 2022. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

On another health care issue, Abrams defended her advocacy of abortion rights, in contrast to Kemp’s approval of a law prohibiting most abortions in Georgia after six weeks — before many women even know they are pregnant. Abrams has said she would work to repeal the Georgia law if she becomes governor. 

“I have over 100 sheriffs endorsing my campaign,” Kemp said, to validate his crime-fighting credentials. Abrams said she also had the support of some sheriffs (despite Kemp claiming she did not) and attacked Kemp for signing a bill into law that allows Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit. 

“I support law enforcement and did so for 11 years” in the Legislature, Abrams said. But she pointed out that she supports both “safety and justice” so that law enforcement officers do not treat minorities and others unfairly, noting she has one brother who has been “pulled over for driving while Black.” 

Kemp falsely claimed federal law requires background checks for all gun purchases, but Abrams correctly pointed out that it does not. Kemp said he would reduce crime by “going after the people who are doing these gun-related crimes,” but offered no explanation of his nonsensical position that making it easier to carry concealed firearms will reduce gun crime.

“I believe we can protect the Second Amendment and protect second graders at the same time” from gun violence, Abrams said.

The two candidates ran against each other in 2018 in an election Kemp narrowly won. Abrams has spent the past four years working to expand voting rights, while Kemp signed a bill into law to make voting more difficult. He claimed this was necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though there is no evidence of such widespread fraud. Abrams has said she would work to repeal the law, which disproportionately disenfranchises Black voters, if she becomes governor.

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Shane Hazel also participated in the debate. He is a protest candidate with no chance of winning and was a pointless distraction. He admitted that his goal is just to prevent either Kemp or Abrams from getting a majority in the Nov. 8 election so he can force the pair into a runoff election Dec. 6. 

Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, from left, Libertarian challenger Shane Hazel and Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp debate during the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series in Atlanta, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

Early voting began Monday in Georgia.

On education, Kemp boasted of signing a bill to raise teacher salaries by $5,000 annually, but Abrams said she would use part of the state’s multibillion-dollar budget surplus to give teachers an $11,000 yearly pay increase, saying Georgia has only a 67% retention rate for teachers.

Abrams said some teachers are leaving the profession because they don’t want to be told, “you have to lie to a child,” or remove unflattering material to sugarcoat history. But Kemp said, “people are tired of their kids being indoctrinated in the classroom.” 

Kemp said he would use part of the state’s budget surplus to cut taxes. He credited his policy of allowing businesses and schools to stay open during much of the COVID-19 pandemic with being responsible for the state’s healthy economy and budget surplus, and criticized Abrams for opposing rapid reopenings.

“I urged caution,” Abrams said, noting that about 38,000 Georgians have died of COVID. 

Abrams will need strong voter turnout by the Democratic base to overcome the advantages that incumbency confers on Kemp. The RealClear Politics average of opinion polls gives Kemp a lead over Abrams, 51 to 45.5 percent. 

Georgia voters surprised pundits when they elected two Democrats to the U.S. Senate two years ago. They should now show up in big numbers for Abrams and help this extraordinarily qualified former legislator, businesswoman, nonprofit leader and Yale Law School graduate make history and build better lives for all the people of Georgia.


Donna Brazile Headshot thegrio.com

Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile

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