In rematch, Kemp and Abrams spar in first 2022 debate

Four years after Republican Brian Kemp beat Democrat Stacey Abrams in one of the closest races for governor in Georgia’s history, the two met again Monday night in the first debate of their highly anticipated rematch.

Crime and the economy dominated the hour-long debate; abortion, a key issue this year and one on which Kemp and Abrams strongly disagree, received barely a mention.

Kemp used every opportunity he could to tout the record he has built since he defeated Abrams in 2018. That was especially true when it came to the state’s economy. As he has done on the campaign trail, he credited his decision to reopen the state from COVID-19 lockdown protocols with amassing a healthy budget surplus, totaling more than $6 billion this year.

“If Stacey Abrams had been your governor over the last four years, you would not have that revenue,” he said. “She wanted to stay locked down and criticized us when we opened it back up.”

Abrams accused Kemp of “beating his chest” but delivering little for the people of Georgia when it comes to challenges like crime, gun violence, housing prices, health insurance and women’s rights

“The most dangerous thing facing Georgians is four more years of Brian Kemp,” she said.

Abrams kept up a steady attack on Kemp throughout the debate.

“Mr. Kemp, what you are attempting to do is continue to lie. You’ve told so many lies, I think you believe it’s the truth.”

But she was also mindful of not coming off as too aggressive. At one point, she apologized twice to Kemp for interrupting him.

Libertarian Shane Hazel offered no such apology. He repeatedly talked over his two rivals and bristled when the moderator tried to rein him in.

“This is ridiculous,” he muttered at one point. At the end of the debate as he continued to speak, debate organizers cut away from him and ran the show’s credits.

Asked why recent polls show her trailing Kemp even though she is in line with how most Georgians come down on some key issues - like her support for abortion rights – Abrams said she didn’t believe the surveys were accurate.

“Polls are a snapshot. The question is, who are they taking a picture of?” she asked. “I’m on the right side of history and the right side of the issues.”

Appealing to her base, Abrams asked Kemp about what she said was a huge gap between minority owned businesses and majority owned businesses. Although minorities comprise 48% of the population, they generate 12.2% of the business revenue in the state.

“What are your concrete specific targeted plans to decrease and address the racial equity gap currently facing contracting and purchasing for minority owned businesses? “

Kemp pivoted, saying he kept the state open for business despite the pandemic and pushed to get kids back in the classroom.

“A lot of Georgians, including African-Americans and other minorities, cannot go to work if their kids are not in the classroom. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country for African-Americans. We also were named among the top 10 states for black entrepreneurship,” he said.

The issue of abortion received only a passing mention. At the beginning of the contest, Kemp was asked whether he supported he supported a statewide ban on destroying embryos created for in-vitro fertilization, or IVF, or Plan B abortion pills. Leaked recordings from campaign events suggested he was. But on Monday night Kemp, who signed the state’s restrictive abortion ban, ruled both out.

Kemp talked up the $5,000 pay raise his administration provided teachers, the suspension of the state’s gas tax to help offset inflationary woes and the return of some of the surplus to taxpayers in the form of an income tax refund.

“So, our economy is incredible,” he said.

One of the biggest disagreements between the two is the surplus: Kemp has pledged to return about $2 billion to taxpayers.

“We have, in fact, been using this revenue and will do so in the future to do another income tax refund... to put the money back in your pocket,” Kemp said.

Abrams has said it should be used to fund what she said were vital programs like Medicaid expansion and early childhood education. Abrams also wants to provide a $1 billion refund to Georgians.

“I want to invest it in our children and in our families, beginning with making certain that we have pre- K slots. We have four-year-olds on a waiting list. I’ve never met a four-year-old who waits to turn five. But we can solve that problem with the money we have right now,” she said.

Watch the replay: