Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor, has said she owes the Internal Revenue Service more than $50,000, in part because she helped her parents pay their medical bills. One of Georgia’s leading Republicans says the party should stop trying to make that an issue. KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com

Capitol Recap: Stop talking about Abrams’ finances, one GOP leader says

Republicans have taken aim at Democrat Stacey Abrams’ finances — specifically, the more than $50,000 in taxes she owes the Internal Revenue Service — seeing it as the best way to derail her run for governor.

One Republican says they should try something else.

Abrams wrote about her troubles a few months ago in Forbes magazine, saying she had more than $170,000 in credit card and student loan debt. Much of what she owes, Abrams says, involves helping her parents pay their medical bills. The candidate says she has worked out a payment plan with the IRS on the overdue taxes.

She has since made it part of her stump speech, but Republicans have tried to highlight it as a weakness.

Just Tuesday, the campaign spokesman for GOP gubernatorial nominee Brian Kemp brought up Abrams’ tax debt while addressing a separate matter, links to the Kemp campaign’s social media account from the official app of the Secretary of State’s Office — Kemp’s office. While stressing that the links were “legal and common for elected officials,” Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney said they “will be removed so we can focus on important issues like Stacey Abrams failing to pay her taxes.”

Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon is suggesting a different tack on Abrams’ finances: Lay off.

It’s partly a matter of consistency, while also a concern about party image.

In a Facebook post, McKoon offers several points:

  • First, take a look in the mirror.

The party, he wrote, has “excused Republican candidates for office with financial problems who got behind the eight ball helping family members — which is what Abrams said is her situation.”

McKoon didn’t mention it in the post, but Nathan Deal was in a similar situation when he ran for governor in 2010. Less than three months after that election, he would be required to pay off a $1.6 million loan he had guaranteed for a failed sporting goods business belonging to his daughter and son-in-law.

  • Second, it’s not a good look for us.

McKoon wrote: “Many, many people have experienced financial crisis since the Great Recession. People already see us as the party of rich people. Why play into that stereotype by appearing disconnected from the plight of everyday folks?”

  • Third, there’s so much more to look at.

The outgoing senator wrote: “There are many other more attractive avenues to explain why Abrams is a poor choice for governor. Prosecuting the “debt” argument means less time to talk about her far left politics and out of state backers.”

Waging a bet on the 6th: National Democrats signaled this past week that they believe they have a shot this year at taking a suburban Atlanta district in Congress.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is throwing its support behind Lucy McBath in her race against U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

The committee added McBath to its Red to Blue program, meaning it’s upgraded her to its highest group of recruits — she makes it 59 — aiming to take Republican-held seats in the U.S. House.

The DCCC isn’t saying how much it will spend on the 6th District race, but McBath will receive its help in areas such as organizing and fundraising.

Fundraising has proved to be one of McBath’s strengths, thanks to support from Everytown for Gun Safety. McBath, a former spokeswoman for the gun control group, received more than $1 million from Everytown during her campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Fundraising has also gone well for Handel, who began July with about $1 million socked away for her re-election bid.

Money, however, may not be the issue. When Jon Ossoff ran against Handel in last year’s special election, he had about $30 million to wage what became the most expensive U.S. House race ever.

The DCCC said in a statement that McBath earned the extra support by being more than a one-issue candidate on guns.

“During this campaign Lucy has shown herself to be not just a powerful advocate for gun safety, but also for the kind of affordable, quality health care that helped her beat breast cancer twice,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said. “That compelling story is what drove her to victory in the primary, and with a strong grassroots campaign at her back, there is no question Lucy has what it takes to flip this district in November.”

McBath still faces an uphill fight.

The nonpartisan political analysis site the Cook Political Report lists the 6th District as “lean Republican.”

Trade talking: The U.S. Senate rushed out of Washington this past week for a fortnight of rest, relaxation and junkets, but Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue got together with President Donald Trump for a meeting at the White House.

Trade was on the agenda.

The president’s use of tariffs has been an area where Perdue has displayed the type of skills that made him a Fortune 500 CEO. He’s pushed against Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, calling them far too broad, while also trying to beat back bipartisan attempts to halt them. Restricting Trump in trade talks, he said, will only hurt the U.S. in the long run.

Perdue this past week called recent movement in trade discussions with the European Union encouraging, and he hopes similar progress can be made with other trading partners.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s other Republican U.S. senator, Johnny Isakson, signed onto a bipartisan bill that would block Trump’s Commerce Department from instituting tariffs on imported cars and auto parts until a comprehensive study proves there’s been harm done to the U.S. automotive industry.

“Anytime the rules of the game start changing, it makes it challenging for businesses to decide to expand and invest,” said Isakson, who may have been thinking about the Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche complexes in Georgia. “Businesses could be forced into tough choices that may be unnecessary.”

On another front, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says if you want to see harm, it has the paperwork.

It says the price tag on the losses suffered by industries in the recent trade disputes is close to $39 billion.

That’s more than three times the value of the $12 billion aid package David Perdue’s cousin Sonny Perdue, the U.S. agriculture secretary, announced last week to support farmers hurt in the numerous squabbles with other nations over tariffs.

It’s still unclear how much Georgia farmers can expect to see from the package.

RFRA and no further: Business leaders, who have helped lead opposition to “religious liberty” bills during past legislative sessions, may have concerns about Brian Kemp's stance on such measures, but Gov. Nathan Deal says nobody has talked to him about the views of the Republican nominee for governor.

He says Kemp, has indicated he would sign a measure modeled after the 1993 federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.

Deal, whose veto of a religious liberty bill in 2016 was among the most dramatic moments of his administration, says such measures only become problematic when they seek more than was laid out in the federal bill, adding provisions that could be seen as discriminatory.

He added that he also wouldn’t have a problem signing something along the lines of the federal RFRA bill. After all, he voted for it when he was a member of the U.S. House.

“I never had the option to decide on that,” Deal said when presented religious liberty bills that the General Assembly passed, “because every one of those versions went beyond what that said.”

Supporters of religious liberty legislation see the measures as ways to defend against what they view as a siege on Christian values, and they note that President Bill Clinton signed the federal RFRA bill that won Deal’s vote in Congress.

The opponents, including powerful business boosters and gay rights groups, say religious liberty bills amount to legalized discrimination, and they raise concerns that it could hurt the state’s business-friendly reputation.

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