The governor’s race in Georgia likely got even tighter after the first debate seemingly exposed the incumbent’s inability to grasp — or, at least, articulate a strong stance on — certain issues that polling has shown are important to voters in the state.
During their much-anticipated rematch on the debate stage Monday night in Atlanta, Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams came across as the more prepared, more knowledgeable candidate while facing Gov. Brian Kemp, who at one point even tried to pin the “angry Black woman” stereotype on his opponent, albeit unsuccessfully.
As such, Abrams easily outclassed Kemp in a number of ways during their debate.
When Kemp resorted to the Republican playbook of fearmongering about crime, Abrams was ready with facts to counter what at times were false claims.
In particular, Kemp — like we’ve seen from other Republican nominees during this election season — blamed Abrams for supporting President Joe Biden, whose policies the GOP has soundly blamed for rising crime rates around the country. But Abrams rightfully pointed out that the escalating lawlessness in Georgia has come on Kemp’s watch and credited his loose gun laws for contributing to and not solving the problem.
“We live in a state of fear,” Abrams said. “And this is a governor who, for the last four years, has beat his chest but delivered very little for most Georgians.”
When Kemp then mischaracterized his rival as being on a crusade to take citizens’ guns away, Abrams had one of several mic drop moments.
“I believe we can protect the Second Amendment and second graders at the same time,” Abrams said.
Abrams also wouldn’t stand for Kemp’s lies and called him out over false claims about the state’s background checks when buying guns. Kemp insisted there are background checks during each and every gun purchase in Georgia, but Abrams pushed back with facts and reminded the governor, “That is not true.”
“If you purchase a weapon in Georgia … through a gun show or private sale, you are not subject to that background check,” Abrams continued accurately.
The New York Times previously reported on the massive “loopholes and missing data” when it comes to the gun background check system, supporting what Abrams said.
Kemp, for his part, whether knowingly or unwittingly, resorted to racist tropes when he described Abrams as “upset and mad,” which the executive director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights group, equated to him calling her an “angry Black woman.”
On minority-owned businesses
When the debate turned to the issue of minority-owned businesses, Abrams continued to play the role of fact-checker in the face of Kemp’s lies as they repeatedly clashed over the topic as it related to the pandemic. It was when the country was at the height of Covid that Georgia chose to open the state back up, something Abrams opposed over health concerns.
Kemp said that allowed minority-owned businesses to thrive at a time when companies were otherwise closed and bragged about the lowest unemployment rate for African Americans. He said Abrams was “criticizing us” all the while.
Despite the attack, Abrams remained her cool, calm and collected self while letting the facts do the talking for her. She pointed out Kemp’s nonexistent record on purchasing contracts for Black-owned businesses as part of a pattern of consequences of electing someone who is part of the “good old boys’ club” that pays outsized amounts of attention to white-owned companies.
“Brian kemp does not have a plan for making certain that people of color have access to those contracts, access to purchasing. It was only in July of this year that he finally acknowledged that there might be a problem,” Abrams said while leading into another mic drop moment.
“He has said that we need to study it — I would tell him just cheat off my paper. I know the answer. We need a governor who actually believes in equity — racial equity, economic equity in the state of Georgia — and I will deliver,” Abrams said confidently.
On voting rights
When the debate moderators tried to insinuate that Abrams denied the results of her gubernatorial election loss to Kemp in 2018, the facts were once again all she needed to set the record straight.
Abrams reminded the moderators that she acknowledged Kemp won while disputing how he won by laying out in great detail the suspected voter suppression he allegedly orchestrated as a candidate who was also serving as the secretary of state, a position that oversees all state elections.
Abrams cited the 8,000 complaints and a lawsuit that called for every vote to be counted “proved us right” on claims of voter suppression.
“We didn’t win every single claim but we forced massive changes,” Abrams said of her campaign’s lawsuit.
Contradicting widespread reports about Georgia’s controversial SB 202 voting law — the same law that prompted the DOJ to sue in part over how it “particularly” affects Black voters — Kemp downplayed the obstacles voters face at the polls.
“In Georgia, it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Kemp insisted despite evidence to the contrary.
Abrams replied: “Voter suppression is the hallmark of Brian Kemp’s leadership.”
Libertarian Shane Hazel also participated in the debate, but polling suggests it’s only a two-person contest between Abrams and Kemp.
A pair of polls released last week both have Kemp ahead of Abrams, but the numbers suggest his lead is far from insurmountable. A poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had Kemp up 10 percentage points, but a separate Quinnipiac poll found Abrams was only trailing by 1 percentage point. Each poll has a margin of error of about 3 percentage points, making this gubernatorial race anything but a shoo-in for the incumbent.
After all, we’re talking about the same Stacey Abrams who was widely credited for not only turning out a record number of Black voters during the 2020 election but also for securing the election of Joe Biden over Donald Trump as the state of Georgia was flipped blue for the first time in nearly three decades.
Considering such electoral momentum and the fact that polling is far from a definitive predictor of success, it wouldn’t be prudent to count out Abrams.
The candidates are scheduled to debate for a second and final time on Oct. 30.