Brian Kemp, Stacey Abrams hold first debate in governor race

The candidates attack each other’s records in a debate that coincided with the first day of early voting ahead of the November 8 general election

Four years later, Brian Kemp and Stacy Abrams renewed their grudge game between the governors in a televised debate Monday night ahead of the Nov. 8 Georgia governor rematch.

In contrast to their 2018 race, the duo are now regarded as seasonal politicians with a national profile. However, their different visions for the future of Georgia have not changed significantly.

The candidates met with libertarian Shane Hazel on the first day of early voting as part of the Atlanta Press Club’s Loudermilk Young debate series. All debates hosted by the Press Club are available to viewers on and the Atlanta Press Club Facebook page.

The debate was wide-ranging, with questions about abortion, education, voting rights, law enforcement, legalization of marijuana, entrepreneurship, and even U.S. Senate appointments. The economy and inflation were among the few major issues that received little attention.

Preview: Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams take the stage for a debate Monday night

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The Kemp-Abrams race is a repeat of the 2018 election. Kemp narrowly won that contest — 55,000 votes — and has led the state for the past four years. Meanwhile, Abrams has spent this time building her national profile by advocating voting rights.

When it happened: Flashback: Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams participate in Georgia gubernatorial debate on education and crime

‘… the right side of the story’

The debate began without any introductory statements from the candidates, instead it started with tough questions.

“The reason people are on my side is because I’m on the right side of the issues and the right side of history,” Abrams said in response to an opening question about why she’s behind in polls. “I don’t think I’m behind, I think I’m making the case for myself.”

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When asked if he would support additional abortion or contraceptive bans, Kemp said, “No, I wouldn’t,” then turned to inflation.

“Fortunately, by working with the Georgia General Assembly, we have been able to bring relief to some people,” he said.

Kemp and Hazel had a back-and-forth over the legality of marijuana early on.

After a short question and answer session from the panellists, the candidates had the opportunity to ask each other a question.

Kemp asked Abrams how many sheriffs had supported her campaign and claimed that none had — a characterization Abrams disagreed with.

Abrams asked Kemp about the 100-year gap for minority-owned businesses to catch up with white-owned entrepreneurs, particularly on government contracts. Kemp said Georgia has managed to have high black entrepreneurship and low unemployment. Abrams said he still hasn’t done enough to secure deals.

The most urgent problems

Each candidate was given the opportunity to highlight what they consider to be the most pressing issues in Georgia.

Abrams listed a number of issues that she threw at Kemp’s doorstep.

“Gang crime has gone up, gun violence has gone up, real estate prices have gone up,” Abrams said. “We have 1.4 million people who don’t have health insurance… The most dangerous thing Georgia faces is four more years of Brian Kemp.”

For his part, Kemp turned his attention back to the rising cost of living.

“My record is under attack because Abrams doesn’t want to talk about her own,” he said. “We value life and we care. But going forward I will focus on what it was when we opened the debate, and that is tackling sky-high inflation.”

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Education was a major theme of the evening, with Kemp defending his work and Abrams saying more needs to be done. Hazel advocated the privatization of public education.

Kemp was asked why he focused on divisive concept legislation in the last legislative session and is only now prioritizing $65 million to address the learning loss from pandemics. Kemp said his administration has been working with schools and educational groups on this issue all along.

“This is really just the next step in this process. We’re funding K-12 education more than we’ve ever done in this state—ever,” he said.

Abrams called for the $6.6 billion state surplus to be used to increase access to preschools and give teachers an $11,000 raise.

“My plan is to use the resources we have today to plan for today and tomorrow,” Abrams said.

“If Stacey Abrams had been governor for the last four years, we wouldn’t have that income,” Kemp shot back.

Abrams later attacked Kemp for passing a “divisive concept” law restricting the way certain historical subjects can be taught.

“When it comes to education, we know teachers are leaving the job market,” Abrams said, adding that teachers are leaving because legislation on divisive issues means teachers “have to lie to a kid.”

Kemp defended his record on teacher retention, including increasing teachers’ salaries, but also some of his laws about how certain things are taught.

“That’s exactly why I did the $5,000 teacher pay raise that I did in 2018,” Kemp said. “We also did a Parent’s Bill of Rights.”

Voting Rights and Legislative Changes

Abrams famously refused to admit to the 2018 election, although in her response she said she acknowledged that Kemp won then. But she said Kemp’s policies in this election and today make it harder for people to vote.

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“We need a governor who believes in the right to vote and not in voter suppression,” Abrams said.

Kemp responded by noting record turnout in 2020 and this spring’s primary, repeating a standard line: “Georgia is easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

Rising cost of living and access to health care

Although the polls are one of the most important issues for Georgians, the rising cost of living has hardly been questioned. Medical costs and access to hospitals in the state received more attention.

When asked about hospital closures, Kemp replied, “I just want to remind voters back home that hospitals are being built too,” and elaborated on his work to keep some hospitals open.

Abrams reiterated her support for expanding Medicaid — Georgia is one of 12 states that have declined to expand it to all people who are up to 138% of the federal poverty line.

“We have 19 hospitals that are at risk of closure, joining the six hospitals that have been closed under this governor,” Abrams said, suggesting that federal funding that would come with Medicaid expansion would help those keep health facilities open.

“She said the silver bullet is expanding Medicaid,” Kemp replied, saying his government has increased the number of people accessing the program. “The problem is that it’s a broken system of government.”

law enforcement and public safety

Kemp was asked a question about the spread of gun violence.

“Well again, we go after the people who are committing these gun crimes and that’s what we’re doing when we’re tackling gang violence,” he said.

“I think we can protect the Second Amendment and the second graders at the exact same time,” Abrams replied, blaming rising crime under Kemp for a spike in gun sales.


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