Politics

After Years Of Public Feuds, Abrams And Kemp Meet For First Debate In Ga. Governor’s Race

Democrat Stacey Abrams, left, and Republican Brian Kemp greet each other before Tuesday’s debate in Atlanta. Kemp and Abrams are vying to be Georgia’s next governor. The election is Nov. 6, and early voting is underway across the state.
Democrat Stacey Abrams, left, and Republican Brian Kemp greet each other before Tuesday’s debate in Atlanta. Kemp and Abrams are vying to be Georgia’s next governor. The election is Nov. 6, and early voting is underway across the state.
Credit John Bazemore / Associated Press

Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and former state Democratic Minority Leader Stacey Abrams have argued publicly for years. On Tuesday night, they met for the first official debate in the final stage of the Georgia governor’s race.

The debate, organized by the Atlanta Press Club, began with the news of the day: A report that Abrams burned a Georgia flag in protest when she was a college student in the ’90s. The Georgia flag at the time included the Confederate emblem.

“And 26 years ago as a college freshman,” Abrams said, “I along with many other Georgians, including the governor of Georgia, were deeply disturbed by the racial divisiveness that was embedded in the state flag with that Confederate symbol. I took an action of peaceful protest.”

Before the debate could really get going though, it was interrupted. An alarm briefly went off in the studio.

When the alarmed stopped, the debate quickly got going again.

Georgia gubernatorial candidates, from left, Democrat Stacey Abrams, Republican Brian Kemp and Libertarian Ted Metz react as a fire alarm interrupts their debate Tuesday in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Abrams said in-state tuition and scholarships should go to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program students. These are young immigrants living in the country without legal permission who are shielded from deportation. Kemp said no.

“That is the wrong position to go,” he said. “I think we need to continue to fight for our own people, that are our own state, that are citizens of our state, and that’s what I’ll do as governor.”

Kemp and Abrams spent a chunk of the debate arguing about voting and claims that Kemp has suppressed the vote as the state’s top election official.

“Voters should look at the numbers and know that this is all a distraction to take away from Ms. Abrams’ extreme agenda that she has,” Kemp said.

Abrams responded: “I take the right to vote very seriously. I only believe that those who have the legal eligibility to vote, should cast a ballot.”

The debate didn’t bring out much new information from Kemp and Abrams, and it didn’t directly touch on some of the other stories drawing the most clicks online right now: A recording of Kemp saying he’s worried about voter turnout driven by the Abrams campaign, and comments from Abrams that the “free market” won’t solve the state’s health care problems.