Hopefuls in Georgia’s two closest U.S. House races trade punches in debates

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, left, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, now battling each other in a rematch from 2018, debated Tuesday.

Candidates for Georgia’s two most competitive congressional races clashed during Tuesday’s debate on topics including health care, the coronavirus pandemic and election security.

The Affordable Care Act and Republicans' attempts to dismantle it came up several times during the debate between Democrat Lucy McBath and her challenger in the 6th Congressional District, Karen Handel. McBath, a breast cancer survivor, said she had worked to protect coverage for people with preexisting conditions and lower prescription drug costs.

“I promise to continue to fight to make sure that health care is accessible to each and everyone,” McBath said. 'It is not a privilege, that is your right as an American."

Handel, a Republican, accused McBath of misrepresenting her record while in office and not doing enough during two years in Washington to work with Republicans to pass health care legislation into law.

“The Democrats don’t want to solve the problem, they want political talking points for campaign ads,” Handel said.

ExploreComplete guide to Georgia’s 6th Congressional District general election

The 6th District race provides a rare opportunity for voters to dissect the voting records of both candidates, who have each represented the suburban Atlanta seat. Handel was elected in a 2017 special election, and McBath unseated her in 2018.

Their debate, hosted by the Atlanta Press Club, showed the differences between the two. Handel supports Republicans' efforts to quickly confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. McBath said she fears Barrett will support repealing the Affordable Care Act and take away access to abortion.

McBath said Congress should implement new safeguards to protect voter access, and she accused Handel of employing voter suppression tactics during her time as Georgia’s secretary of state. Handel said she oversaw the 2008 election with historic turnout and that it was a success.

Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux and Republican Rich McCormick, the two candidates in Georgia's 7th Congressional District race, took part in a rough and tumble debate Tuesday.

The 7th Congressional District debate was equally combative, with Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux and Republican Rich McCormick squaring off in the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall.

Bourdeaux, a public policy professor and veteran policy analyst, ran against Woodall in 2018 and came within 500 votes of winning the seat. McCormick, an emergency room doctor and Marine veteran, is a first-time candidate.

The two clashed over hot-button issues such as immigration, health care and how best to help the district during the COVID-19 pandemic. On several occasions, McCormick called Bourdeaux a liar and a hypocrite. Bourdeaux, in turn, accused McCormick of being a part of the Republicans' record of COVID failures, including not wearing a protective mask to his own political events.

“I think I’m doing things right when I’m the one that treats patients for a living,” McCormick shot back.

ExploreComplete guide to Georgia’s 7th Congressional District general election

When the candidates stuck to the issues, their divergent approaches to large-scale problem solving were on vivid display. McCormick favored less regulation and lower taxes over new legislation, describing the federal government as “a necessary evil." Bordeaux outlined detailed policy prescriptions for everything from supporting immigrant communities in the district to reopening schools during the pandemic.

On the question of whether Congress should pass extended unemployment benefits for people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, McCormick said recent unemployment benefits have been so generous people made more money not working than working.

“If you want to support people who cannot go back to work legitimately, then of course, but don’t encourage people to stay unemployed,” McCormick said.

Bordeaux said she favors another round of COVID relief for businesses and individuals, but she added, “The reason we need another package of support is because our president and our governor and unfortunately many Republicans have failed to get this disease under control.”

The most bitter accusations came when Bourdeaux accused McCormick of “downplaying the virus" and the effect it’s had on people’s lives.

McCormick called that dishonest and added: “The fact is the ER is empty now, the ICU is empty now, the floor is empty now. I’m just telling you what I’m seeing firsthand.”

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