The Jolt: A debate coach gives Abrams a narrow win over Kemp

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Last night's Atlanta Press Club debate of the three candidates for governor was a nationally watched affair. The Washington Post took note, as did the New York Times.

Aaron Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan, who takes the art of coherent argument quite seriously, sent over some notes on the hour-long affair that featured Democrat Stacey Abrams, Republican Brian Kemp and Libertarian Ted Metz. To wit:

Stacey Abrams narrowly won tonight's highly contentious Georgia gubernatorial debate.

That being said, the format of the debate and inclusion of the third-party Libertarian candidate didn't allow for the most ideal experience for viewers and undecided voters.

It was quite awkward when Abrams and Kemp used Libertarian candidate Ted Metz as a proxy to attack each other early in the debate. Overall, Metz mostly sided with Kemp, which contributed to a tag team phenomenon during the question-and-answer portion of the debate.

Given the recency and national prominence of the flag burning controversy, it made sense for this to immediately come up at the start of the debate, which put Abrams on the defensive. She handled the question as well as could be expected by mentioning Kemp's voting record on the flag issue to help vindicate her actions while in college.

Abrams scored a moderate victory tonight because she continually stressed the themes of leadership, bipartisanship, and Medicaid expansion. She mentioned working with current Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on criminal justice reform and pointed out that Vice President Mike Pence expanded Medicaid while governor of Indiana.

Kemp should have highlighted his endorsement from Deal as a more direct response and pointed out numerous differences and conditions associated with Indiana's Medicaid expansion, which greatly differs from Abrams' vision for Georgia.

Instead, a few subtle actions from Kemp hurt his overall debate performance tonight. Early in the debate he argued with the moderator about the amount of time he should have for a rebuttal. All candidates and their campaigns agreed to the debate rules in advance and anytime spent arguing with the moderator is distracting and takes away precious time that could be used better elsewhere.

Ironically, when given an opportunity for an extra rebuttal later in the debate, Kemp demurred. A few of the split-screen camera shots showed Kemp shaking his head and smirking while Abrams was answering questions. A more stoic and measured demeanor would have been more advisable.

Kemp aggressively challenged Abrams on issues such as immigration and taxes. He had the advantage of delivering a later closing statement and echoed former Senator Bob Dole by saying that Abrams was lying about his record.

Ultimately, Abrams made a few more persuasive arguments during the hour affair and had a slightly better debating style given this format. She did a good job of preempting some of Kemp's arguments in advance, which lessens their rhetorical impact. Abrams also repeatedly mentioned what she would do as the next Georgia governor, which can be presumptuous, but also instills confidence and optimism.

If you missed it last night, you can watch it now on the Georgia Public Broadcasting website:


The debate coach in Ann Arbor wasn't the only one who found one particular facet of the debate, candidate-on-candidate questioning, to be annoying. From state Public Service Commission member Tim Echols, a Republican, via Twitter:

As one who has participated in your debates, my vote is to end the candidate-to-candidate question portion. It is unbecoming of public television and mostly a waste of precious air time.


For those of you who would like to see the next gubernatorial debate feature only the Democratic and Republican candidates, we've got disappointing news. Condace Pressley, the director of community affairs for Cox Media Group, confirmed this morning that Libertarian Ted Metz has been invited to the Sunday, Nov. 4 gubernatorial debate on Channel 2 Action News.


After last night's first televised gubernatorial debate, Stacey Abrams declared victory. Brian Kemp went back on the offensive. He tweeted an attack on her healthcare plan and retweeted a supporter who criticized Abrams' debt to the IRS. 


Vice President Mike Pence is expected to return to the Georgia campaign trail next week, but there's still no word on whether President Donald Trump will help Brian Kemp out. We've noted Trump's emphasis is on federal races, and New York Times political reporter Jonathan Martin offered a bit more context on Twitter. He wrote that there's "some chatter he'll do Macon for Kemp but (the White House) isn't thrilled about having to lock up a gov race in GA."

The president did chime in this morning, however, with another attaboy for Kemp:

Brian Kemp will be a GREAT Governor of Georgia. Stacey Abrams will destroy the State. Sooooo important, get out and VOTE for Brian!


A clear sign that Republicans aren't about to relent on Stacey Abrams' agriculture gaffe: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich chimed in on Twitter to say the Democrat's "ignorance of rural Georgia is stunning." "Socialism is always dangerous but Abrams' ignorant socialism is even more dangerous." She's said her comments were taken out of context.


A just-arrived note from Mark Butler's office begins thusly:

The Georgia Department of Labor's career center in Americus reopened this morning, returning the agency to full service for the first time since Hurricane Michael hit.

The location at 120 W. Church St. reopened at 8 a.m. even though phone service has yet to be re-established. 


The leadership of Grovetown, Ga., keeps rather late hours. Below is the Facebook post that Mayor Gary E. Jones published at 3:06 a.m. on Monday. It's gotten quite a bit of attention:

In order to ensure the safety of our children, all sex offenders (on Probation) in the City of Grovetown (area) will be housed in the Council Chambers on Halloween night from 6pm-9pm. There are approx. 25-30 offenders and they will be overseen by the GA Dept. of Community Supervision District 10 (4 officers) and accompanied by one Grovetown Officer.


Keep your eye on this new facet in the fight over "religious liberty" legislation. It's been bubbling for some time, and has now broken into the open. From

The Trump administration is considering a request from a faith-based foster care agency to continue denying non-Christian parents from fostering children, the Intercept reported Friday.

The case centers around a South Carolina Christian organization, Miracle Hill Ministries, which claims that under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), they are not obligated to place children with non-Protestant Christian foster families.

Several Jewish families have reportedly been rejected under this policy.


Hearty congrats to Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate for last year's epic 6th District race. He recently announced his marriage to Alisha Kramer at a private ceremony near Newnan. Kramer, 28, is completing her fourth year of medical school at Emory University and intends to specialize in OB-GYN medicine. Ossoff, 31, runs the Insight TWI Ltd. media firm. The two live in Brookhaven. Mazel tov!


A video of U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, dancing to Jay-Z and Beyonce is not something we knew we needed in our lives, but it exists and it's for charity. Watch it here.


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