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State’s GOP Senate Hopefuls Square Off In Debate

Six of the Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls debated Monday in a forum sponsored by the Georgia Municipal Association at the Hilton Hotel in Downtown Atlanta.
Six of the Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls debated Monday in a forum sponsored by the Georgia Municipal Association at the Hilton Hotel in Downtown Atlanta.
Credit Michell Eloy

Six of the Republican candidates for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat Monday squared off in a debate hosted by the Georgia Municipal Association, with gun rights and the Affordable Care Act dominating the topics of discussion.As heard on the radio

The debate kicked off with U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Athens defending his decision to give away an AR-15 rifle to a campaign supporter. Broun said “Georgia is a pro-gun state,” and tied the move to his campaign objectives to loosen gun restrictions.

“The Government wants to take our constitutional rights away,” Broun said.  “It wants to take our money away. It’s stealing our children and grandchildren’s future, and it’s got to stop.”

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta said he wouldn’t go so far as to call Broun’s gun giveaway a gimmick, but when asked by reporters about the comment after the event,  Gingrey said, “It is a little gimmicky.”

“I wouldn’t do that to prove my Second Amendment credentials,” Gingrey said.

During the debate, candidates were asked about another potential government shutdown over again extending the nation’s debt ceiling, a which could come to a vote as early as February.

Gingrey, Broun and fellow Congressman Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah said the only way they would extend the debt ceiling is with corresponding spending cuts.

“We’ve got to use these opportunities as a trigger to come together and force some serious spending cuts, and that’s what I’ve consistently stood for,” Kingston said. 

And Broun and Gingrey blamed last year’s shutdown on Democrats, namely President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for not compromising on the Affordable Care Act. The two promised more efforts to repeal so-called “Obamacare” should they win. 

“There will be a lot of amens out there when I say Obamacare is hurting the government. It’s hurting individuals, it’s hurting patients, it’s hurting all of us,” said Gingrey, who later reiterated earlier claims that he’ll repeal the president’s signature legislation in his first term if elected or leave office.

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel echoed the call to repeal the Affordable Care Act later in the debate.

“We need to repeal Obamacare, but we have to step up with our plan that is patient-centered and market driven,” Handel said.

No one raised a hand when asked about supporting a bipartisan Senate bill passed this summer that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Businessman Eugene Yu, a South Korean immigrant, said while some reforms to the application process are needed, “Does the illegal immigrant deserve amnesty? No, no, no, no, because that is direct insult to a person who comes in the country like me legally.”

When asked by a show of hands who was in favor of extending the now-expired long-term unemployment benefits, which have been held up in Congress since late December, not one candidate raised his or her hand, either.

Handel said the focus should be on growing the economy instead.

“Just continuing to extend, extend, extend doesn’t do anything to create new jobs,” Handel said.

Businessman David Purdue said all other issues should be secondary to cutting the national debt.

“If we don’t solve that, we’re going to lose the right to debate other issues. This debt is a full-blown crisis,” Perdue said.  

Two other GOP candidates, Art Gardner and Derrick Grayson, did not participate in Monday’s debate. 

Only one of the four Democratic nominees for the Senate seat spoke to the Georgia Municipal Association after the Republican debate.

Atlanta-based psychiatrist Dr. Branko Radulovacki contrasted GOP calls for small government.

“There is a role for good and effective government, but we need the right people to galvanize and channel the resources of that government in the right areas,” Radulovacki said.

The other three nominees – former State Sen. Steen Miles, ROTC Director Todd Robinson and Nonprofit CEO Michelle Nunn – were not in attendance.

The candidates are running for the seat held by Sen. Saxby Chambliss’, who’s stepping down after two terms. 

The state primary is May 20.