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Kemp, Abrams face off in Ga. governor’s debate as they head into 2018 rematch

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Economy, character shaping heated Georgia races

Economy, character shaping heated Georgia races

02:12

Atlanta — Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and his Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams faced off Monday night in the first of their two scheduled debates in the highly-watched rematch of the 2018 race.

The debate focused mainly on the issues, with the most contentious moments coming when discussing the economy, crime and abortion rights. The most recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll shows Kemp leading 52% to 46%.

Abrams challenged Kemp on his record as governor, saying “the most dangerous thing facing Georgia is four more years of Brian Kemp.” Kemp, for his part, responded that his record is being attacked because Abrams didn’t want to talk about her own record or her work for President Joe Biden, who he blamed for the policies that he said are harming Georgia.

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The candidates were also joined by third-party candidate Libertarian Shane Hazel, who asked Kemp whether he wanted “to say you’re sorry to anybody” about his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hazel said Kemp “killed millions of jobs” and “pushed a vaccine that was untested on people and it has killed people.” Kemp was one of the first governors to reopen his state in 2020, and Monday night he called Hazel “gravely mistaken.” 

Election 2022 Georgia Governor
Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, from left, shakes hands with Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp as Libertarian challenger Shane Hazel stands at right following the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series in Atlanta, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Ben Gray / AP

Kemp also used his early reopening of the state as a rebuttal to Abrams when she asked if he had any plans to address the racial equity gap in business ownership. “A lot of Georgians, including African Americans and other minorities, can not go back to work if their kids are not in the classroom,” he said.

The moderators asked Abrams about her refusal to concede in the 2018 race and if she would accept the results of this race. 

“As governor, I intend to stand up for the right to vote,” Abrams said. “I will always acknowledge the outcome of elections, but I will never deny access to every voter because that is the responsibility of every American – to defend the right to vote.” 

The moderators also asked Kemp about his appointment of Kelly Loeffler to former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat in 2019 – a sore spot for Republicans both nationally and in the state, since Loefller lost in 2020 to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Kemp refused to say if he regretted the decision, saying he was “excited about her candidacy.” 

“It was a very challenging environment in 2020,” Kemp said. “And I think it goes to the point that in 2020, watching that election, I learned a lot of lessons, you know, a lot of things we haven’t been doing with the ground game from a political perspective, we are now doing. Making sure that when we’re campaigning, making sure that we know what the differences are with the candidates, but also, we’ve got to be for something.” 

Kemp also touted his use of Georgia’s surplus to give a $5,000 bonus to all the state’s teachers, which was also a centerpiece of his 2018 candidacy. Abrams shot back that she would give an “$11,000 pay raise to our teachers, instead of a $5,000 layaway,” and criticized the state’s retention rate.

Early in-person voting began Monday in Georgia , and ahead of the debate, even those who have already cast their ballots told CBS News they still planned to watch Monday’s debate. Olivia Bonnei, who voted early in Cobb County, said she’d be tuning in to see how her candidate, Abrams, does, but she has hopes for both candidates. 

“I hope to see Stacey do her usual thing, she’s very articulate, she’s very smart,” Bonnie said. “I’m really hoping it is a debate where the two candidates respect one another, as opposed to trying to interfere with the candidate’s responses to the moderator.” 

Sid Welch, who also voted early Monday, said he would be watching to see if Kemp focuses on his record, as Welch believes he should. 

“It’s hard to beat the progress he’s made in four years,” Welch said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” 

Sue Garner, too, has voted, but she was still hoping to learn more about where each candidate stands. 

“I want to see what both of their stances are,” Garner said. “They both have things that I like, but they both have things that I don’t like.”