Abrams and Kemp face off in Georgia governor's debate

By Joe Ruiz and Simone Pathe, CNN

Updated 1:36 AM ET, Mon October 31, 2022
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8:36 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Differences between candidates clear in closing statements, but both make the same key promise

From CNN's Dan Merica and Maeve Reston

Kemp and Abrams at the debate Sunday.
Kemp and Abrams at the debate Sunday. Ben Gray/AP

The vast differences between Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams were on full display in the closing statements on Sunday night.

But both candidates made the same promise: To put Georgians first.

“I want you to know I am ready to get to work for you on day one. I have the skills and the track record to get the job done,” Abrams said, focusing on a number of issues she sees with Kemp’s tenure in office, including crime going up, hospitals closing and housing prices "skyrocketing."

She added: "I want to do better by Georgia. I want to put you first every single day.”

Abrams pledged to "defend us against danger by strengthening our gun laws, but also want to defend our rights as women by eliminating the abortion ban and restoring a woman’s right to control her body," and said she had "spent my life as someone who believes in doing right by people ... and what we need today is for you to do right. I am asking for your trust and your vote."

Kemp's closing statement was upbeat about the trajectory of Georgia. He briefly attacked Abrams’ view of his leadership but focused mostly on where he believed he had found success.

"We have the lowest unemployment rate in the history of our state. We’ve got the most people ever working in the history of our state. And we’re seeing economic opportunity, no matter your zip code or your neighborhood because we’ve been focused on strengthening rural Georgia and many other things," Kemp said.

He added: “When I ran for governor, I made a very simple promise to people: I told them I would put them first ahead of the status quo and the politically correct. … And that is exactly what I have done."

8:39 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Abrams says Georgia's voting law is causing "voter suppression"

From CNN's Eric Brander

Abrams speaks at the debate Sunday.
Abrams speaks at the debate Sunday. Ben Gray/AP

Abrams lambasted Georgia’s 2021 voting law, SB 202, saying that the new law is being used to cast doubt on the eligibility of some registered voters in this year’s election.

“Let’s be clear that the voter suppression that I’m talking about is being felt by Georgians every single day,” she said, citing the example of a college student who couldn’t get information on why her eligibility was being challenged.

The law, approved by Georgia’s Republican-led legislature and signed into law by Kemp last year, has tightened restrictions on mail-in voting, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and more.

Kemp responded by pointing to archaic voting laws in Democratic-run New York and noting that early voting has been open for two more weeks in Georgia than the Empire State.

“We have laws in our state that make things easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he said, claiming that Abrams has been “running around and scaring people about suppressive votes and suppressive legislation.”

8:41 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Kemp's curious debate complaint: Abrams focusing on his gubernatorial record

From CNN's Dan Merica

Kemp at the debate on Sunday.
Kemp at the debate on Sunday. Ben Gray/AP

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has a common complaint: Democrat Stacey Abrams attacking his record.

It’s a strange grievance -- attacking someone’s record and noting how yours differs is the point of a debate and happens in every contest at every level. It's particularly common in debates involved an incumbent like Kemp.

But that hasn’t stopped the Republican governor, who has repeatedly protested the focus on his record.

“Miss Abrams is going to attack my record because she doesn’t want to talk about her own record,” Kemp said in response to a question on crime. “I’m not the mayor. I’m the governor.”

Later in the debate, the focus on Kemp’s record became a flashpoint.

During a back-and-forth on gun violence, Kemp again said Abrams was “attacking my record because she doesn’t want us talking about hers.”

The comment compelled Abrams to respond.

“I am happy to talk about my record, I have done so repeatedly. But I have not been in office the last four years, so I was not the governor when gun violence went up in Georgia,” Abrams said.

8:42 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Georgia's recovery from pandemic comes up during debate

From CNN's Eva McKend

Kemp at the debate Sunday.
Kemp at the debate Sunday. Ben Gray/AP

Kemp has doubled down on the issue he has made central to his reelection argument: How Georgia reopened during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"You remember when Joe Biden made a big deal about the United States of America being back to pre-pandemic unemployment levels?" Kemp said. "Georgia did that nine months before the rest of the country did because we gave you the choice."

Kemp argued Abrams would have supported mandates for vaccines and masks. 

Abrams shot back, suggesting Kemp's decision to reopen early was based on concern about large corporations. 

"38,800 people died in the state of Georgia. He had one of the highest death rates in the nation," said Abrams. 

CNN's Michael Warren notes that as he has spoken with Democratic-leaning donors in Georgia who said they were voting for Kemp, two issues kept coming up:

Kemp's willingness to "open up" the state early in the pandemic and the state's new gun law that citizens can carry concealed firearms without a permit. We heard Kemp tout both of those positions in the second half of the debate.

7:47 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Senate race ads provide debate interlude

By CNN's Michael Warren

The first commercial break in Sunday's gubernatorial debate was a quick one and featured just two ads: one highlighting Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker's history with violent outbursts toward women, followed by an ad tying Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock to President Joe Biden's policies.

Ads like these have become inescapable in Georgia as both the Senate and governor's races have been two of the most expensive campaigns in the country.

When I was talking with voters in a suburb north of Atlanta earlier this month, a frustrated mother told me she's even seen an anti-Walker ad before a children's YouTube video she was playing for her infant daughter.

9:03 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Abrams notes complex reality of racial bias in policing

By CNN's Maeve Reston

Abrams at the debate Sunday.
Abrams at the debate Sunday. WSB-TV

Just circling back to one notable exchange during the debate over crime policy.

Gov. Brian Kemp had argued that he has the firm backing of law enforcement around the state, in part because of statements that his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, has made about police and police funding (the characterization of which she disputes).

But in response, Abrams spoke from personal experience about how members of her family have been targeted by police because of the color of their skin.

After Kemp noted that he has the endorsement of 107 sheriffs around this state, Abrams was ready with a quick retort.

“As I pointed out before, I’m not a member of the good old boys club," Abrams said. "So no, I don’t have 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take Black people off the streets, who want to be able to go without accountability. I don’t believe every sheriff wants that. But I do know that we need a governor who believes in both defending law enforcement -- but also defending the people of Georgia. I have two brothers, one who has committed crimes and one who was a social worker -- trying to help keep people from committing crimes."

"My brother who commits crimes should be held accountable," she continued. "But my other brother should never be pulled over for driving while Black. And yet in this Georgia, he is. I’m running for governor because we lead complicated lives. And we need a governor who’s willing to hold law enforcement accountable, but also be supportive.”

8:34 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Kemp has mostly avoided engaging with Abrams

From CNN's Chris Cillizza

Kemp at the debate Sunday.
Kemp at the debate Sunday. Ben Gray/AP

Kemp is being very careful to portray himself as anything but an extremist.

While he has occasionally engaged with Abrams, he has, by and large, avoided any sort of sharp back and forth with her. This is likely a function of a) Kemp believes he is comfortably ahead and doesn’t need to take risks and b) he is wary of coming across as too aggressive — particularly on abortion — when debating a woman.

Kemp has repeatedly noted that he believes Abrams is attacking his record because she doesn’t want to talk about her own.

8:24 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Trump is MIA in first half of debate

By CNN's Chris Cillizza

Kemp and Abrams at the debate Sunday.
Kemp and Abrams at the debate Sunday. Ben Gray/AP

Halfway through the debate, one person is notable in his absence: former President Donald Trump.

Neither Abrams nor Kemp have mentioned the billionaire businessman. 

For Kemp, it speaks to the rocky relationship he has had with the former President, who has attacked him for refusing to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.

For Abrams, Trump may be popular enough in the state that she doesn’t view it as politically advantageous to spend time linking Kemp to him.

8:23 p.m. ET, October 30, 2022

Abrams invokes Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker to attack Kemp on abortion

From CNN's Dan Merica

Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams speaks during the debate Sunday.
Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams speaks during the debate Sunday. Ben Gray/AP

In a fiery answer over abortion, Democrat Stacey Abrams invoked Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker and the series of abortion allegations against him to attack Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp.

“We know that under this governor, women are in danger,” said Abrams, adding later, “More importantly he refuses to protect us … and yet he defended Herschel Walker, saying that he didn’t want to be involved in the personal life of his running mate. But he doesn’t mind being involved in the personal lives and personal medical choices of women in Georgia.”

Abrams later addressed the lack of health care among Georgia women.

“It is a terribly dangerous position to put women in and it is a position this government will only put women in because he defends Herschel Walker but will not defend the women of Georgia," she said.

Walker, who is running in a tight Senate race against Democrat Raphael Warnock, is facing allegations that he paid for two women to terminate their pregnancies. Walker has denied those allegations.

When Kemp was asked about the allegations against Walker, he said he was "supporting the ticket."

Kemp did not address the Walker allegations, giving an answer that acknowledged some Georgia voters don’t agree with his more conservative views on the issue. In 2019, Kemp signed a bill that bans most abortions when early cardiac activity is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy – when many women don’t yet know they’re pregnant.

“I would tell people that we passed the heartbeat bill three years ago. We are a state that values life,” Kemp said. “They have known my position for ten years and I have been honest and transparent with them.”

While attacking Abrams on the issue, Kemp tried to use his commitment on the issue as a plus, even if voters disagree with him.

“I can understand people can disagree on policy. At least people know where I have been. I have been consistent, I have been transparent, I did the exactly things I said I could do. And think that is a good reason for people to reelect me,” the governor said.