What to watch at Tuesday’s first televised Georgia gov debate

Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp will meet Tuesday for their first televised TV debate, a 7 p.m. showdown that will air on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

It's the first time the bitter rivals have shared a stage for a debate since the general election matchup was set, and both campaigns are preparing for what could be a critical moment in the nationally watched race for Georgia governor.

The two bitter rivals, who will be joined by Libertarian Ted Metz for the debate, will each try to leverage the debate to energize their supporters and appeal to the vanishingly small number of undecided voters. Poll after poll shows a razor-tight race, raising the possibility of a possible runoff.

And don't forget: A second televised debate will air on Nov. 4 on Channel 2 Action News.

Here’s a look at what to watch for tonight’s debate:

Tone and strategy

Kemp has unleashed slashing attacks on Abrams since he wrapped up the GOP nomination, branding the former House minority leader an "extremist" and "socialist" every chance he got. But she's only recently begun to punch back, with scathing critiques of his healthcare policy and teacher pay proposal.

The debate tonight could very well amplify those arguments and give their supporters some base-pleasing soundbites. But doing so could risk turning off a bloc of the electorate that wants to hear more about policies and less of the blistering back-and-forth.

The biggest clue will come early. The candidates will have a chance to ask each other questions shortly after the debate begins.

Policy divides

Kemp and Abrams are divided on nearly every major debate in Georgia, from their approach to fiscal and healthcare policy to a stark contrast on a range of social debates. The debate Tuesday will give them a chance to sharpen those contrasts and sell their visions to voters in an unvarnished form.

For Abrams, it will be a fresh opportunity to elaborate on her call to expand the Medicaid program and overhaul the state’s public school funding. And Kemp could tout his teacher pay raise plan and his vow to cap state spending.

One issue that could loom large: Pictures of Abrams burning a Georgia flag with a Confederate symbol from 1992 surfaced the eve of the debate. Her campaign said her actions were part of a "permitted, peaceful protest against the Confederate emblem" in the flag.

Voting rights

clash over voting rights always seemed inevitable between the two candidates, who have feuded over ballot access for most of the decade. And a spate of recent lawsuits from voting rights groups has heightened the tension.

Abrams has cast the lawsuits as part of a "pattern of misconduct" by Kemp in his role as the state's top elections official, and her supporters have ratcheted up their calls for him to resign. Kemp offered his most aggressive response this week, saying Abrams was "accusing me of following the law."

The wildcard

Both Kemp and Abrams have sky-high name recognition thanks to droves of media coverage and nonstop waves of advertisements. But the debate will be Metz’s first foray onto a larger stage. With his poll numbers hovering around 2 percent, he’ll have his first major platform to outline his agenda – and take a swing or two at his opponents.

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