ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 23: Georgia gubernatorial candidates (L-R) Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp debate in an event that also included Libertarian Ted Metz at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Midtown October 23, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by John Bazemore-Pool/Getty Images)
Photo: Pool/Getty Images
Photo: Pool/Getty Images

The Jolt: On HOPE, Medicaid, and a selfie with an anti-Islamic supporter

Allies of Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp are weaponizing hard-and-fast positions of the opposition in last-week bids to develop an edge in the governor’s race and beyond.

Kemp has long pummeled Abrams over her support for allowing students brought into the country illegally by their parents to apply for the HOPE scholarship.

In the final stretch of the campaign, the Georgia GOP apparently thinks another facet of Abrams’ position on HOPE scholarships could give Republicans an across-the-board opening in state legislative races as well.

Mailers were sent to conservative households across the state this weekend, attacking the Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s support for needs-based scholarships within the HOPE system. The flyers promoted Republican candidates who would “vote to keep our HOPE scholarship based on merit.” (See them here.)

The lottery-fueled HOPE scholarship was originally envisioned by Gov. Zell Miller in the 1990s as a way for students from lower-income families to afford college. The program now awards financial aid to all students who maintain a “B” average. But Abrams has echoed past Democrats in pushing for an expansion of the program for low-income students that’s not dependent on a 3.0 grade point average.

State lawmakers this year took a step toward establishing a needs-based grant program to send some students to universities. But they didn’t devote any funding to the initiative and it’s not tied to HOPE.

On the Democratic side, PowerPAC is out with a flyer that cuts to the quick of Abrams’ proposal to expand Medicaid coverage in Georgia through the Affordable Care Act, and Kemp’s refusal to do the same.

“Brian Kemp vows to reject $8 million a day from the federal government to keep rural hospitals open,” is the screaming interior headline.

Here’s the thing: This flyer was targeting voters in metro Atlanta suburbs, where hospitals can be found on nearly every other block. One wonders if the same slick sheet was aimed at rural Georgia, where the issue is more visceral.

PowerPAC flyer

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The murder of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday by a gunman who had expressed virulent anti-Semitism has put a fresh spotlight on religious tolerance in the Georgia campaign for governor.

At 10 a.m. today, former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin and former Atlanta city council president Cathy Woolard will hold a press conference spotlighting Republican Brian Kemp’s support for “religious liberty” legislation, and the disclosure of a recent photo of Kemp mugging with an anti-Muslim extremist.

The photo that surfaced Friday, published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has Kemp posing for a selfie with James Stachowiak, who is wearing a T-shirt that reads “Allah is not God, and Mohammad is not his prophet.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has called Stachowiak a “longtime militia organizer and foul-mouthed talk show host” who called for armed resistance if the government tries to confiscate firearms.

Law enforcement at the state Capitol put out a notice in April 2016 warning that he was planning an unpermitted, anti-Islam rally to shred the Koran. Stachowiak was also videotaped harassed a U.S. Air Force veteran – an African-American woman -- at an Augusta event for Abrams earlier this year.

On Saturday, Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney said, “Brian Kemp takes hundreds of photos a day while traveling the state. It’s ridiculous to think he should be held responsible for the beliefs of every person who wants to snap a picture with him. Brian Kemp stands against hatred. He believes we should treat all people with respect.”

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Former President Jimmy Carter is wading into the contentious Georgia governor's race with a personal appeal to Republican candidate Brian Kemp: Resign as secretary of state to avoid damaging public confidence in the outcome of his hotly contested match-up with Democrat Stacey Abrams. From Bill Barrow and the Associated Press:

The 94-year-old Carter's request, made in an Oct. 22 letter obtained by The Associated Press , is the latest turn in a campaign whose closing month is being defined by charges of attempted voter suppression and countercharges of attempted voter fraud.

Kemp has thus far dismissed Democratic demands that he step aside as Georgia's chief elections officer. But Carter attempted to approach the matter less as a partisan who has endorsed Abrams and more as the former president who's spent the decades since he left the Oval Office monitoring elections around the world.

"One of the key requirements for a fair and trusted process is that there be a nonbiased supervision of the electoral process," Carter wrote, adding that stepping aside "would be a sign that you recognize the importance of this key democratic principle and want to ensure the confidence of our citizens in the outcome."

It was not immediately clear whether Kemp has read the letter or responded.

It should be noted that Carter has endorsed Abrams in the gubernatorial contest.

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Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has so far been the biggest outside player in this year’s Sixth District congressional race. Now we can add another suburban Atlanta district to his list.

Bloomberg’s super PAC, Independence USA PAC, on Friday spent nearly $1 million on television ads in support of Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in the Gwinnett and Forsyth-based Seventh District.

That’s some pretty big money for the contest, which before this weekend had attracted no significant outside involvement.

The ad buy came the same day Bloomberg announced he was adding an extra $10 million to his $100 million initiative to help Democrats retake control of the U.S. House. Independence USA PAC also earmarked $130,000 over the weekend for internet ads backing Democrat Lucy McBath in the Sixth District.

Bloomberg’s gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has already spent roughly $4 million in pro-McBath ads, making the organization by far the largest outside contributor in U.S. Rep. Karen Handel’s reelection battle. 

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The Bloomberg money came the same day that Carolyn Bourdeaux released her second major television ad. The spot focuses on health care, the issue the Democrat has put at the center of her campaign. Watch it here:

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All this pro-Democrat advertising in the Seventh District raises the question of whether Woodall will also aim to get on the airwaves during the final days of the race. The low-key Republican incumbent has yet to advertise beyond some campaign mailers, and his team has emanated confidence about his reelection chances even with Bourdeaux posting sky-high fundraising figures

Here’s one hint about where Woodall’s mind has been: his campaign sent out a rare press release Friday touting the endorsement of Gov. Nathan Deal.

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