Credit: GPB News
Ahead in the polls, Kemp defends record as governor against primary challengers in debate
Gov. Brian Kemp spent much of a debate Sunday defending his conservative record and achievements in office, as the five Republican candidates for governor shared the stage for the first time this election cycle.
Recent polls show Kemp is favored to win the May 24 primary outright, despite former efforts by former president Donald Trump to clear the field for former Sen. David Perdue, his hand-picked challenger who was supposed to consolidate support and unseat the incumbent.
In the first two primary debates that featured Kemp and Perdue only, the two men angrily sparred over their respective records in office as Perdue doubled down on false claims about the 2020 election and Kemp attacked the former senator as someone who was lying about the election and Kemp's role in it.
But in the Atlanta Press Club debate, the tone was more muted, as Kemp and Perdue opted to ask questions of the other three candidates — Catherine Davis, Kandiss Taylor and Tom Williams — and largely avoided the vitriolic personal attacks seen in other debates and on the campaign trail. But, like Perdue has repeatedly said, the Republican Party is divided — and there are pockets of resistance to Kemp.
"My question to you is, wouldn't you agree, no matter what happens tonight, once we get past the May 24th primary, that we all all of us on this stage need to come together and unite to make sure that Stacey Abrams is never our governor?" Kemp asked Catherine Davis.
"Governor, I would not agree," she said.
Only Davis did not explicitly say she would support whomever won the GOP nomination, with far-right Kandiss Taylor saying that she would knock on doors for Perdue or Kemp if they won but "they'll never win — Kandiss Taylor will win."
Taylor, who is polling around 5% in the primary and has gained notoriety online for her "Jesus, Guns and Babies" campaign slogan, also made several inflammatory comments about transgender students and teachers in the classroom, accused Kemp of working with the Chinese Communist Party and called President Joe Biden a pedophile.
"Donald Trump won, he won," she said. "We have a fraudulent pedophile in the White House because Gov. Kemp failed."
There is no evidence to support Biden is a pedophile.
Much of the debate centered around education policy, with candidates discussing issues like teacher burnout, legislation banning so-called "divisive concepts" and school choice.
Kemp has touted a number of conservative policy wins throughout his first term in office and the 2022 legislative session, like permitless firearm carry legislation, teacher and state employee pay raises and tougher restrictions on abortion and election rules, plus a thriving Georgia economy.
"Last fiscal year, we had a record year for economic development where 74% of the 379 projects that total $11 billion went outside the 10 metro counties, furthering my commitment to strengthen rural Georgia," Kemp said, "not to mention rural broadband that we have done."
Perdue has failed to gain traction with a broader primary electorate beyond hardcore Trump supporters, falling behind Kemp in the polls and fundraising. He has spent recent days crafting his campaign in open antagonism to Kemp's stances on everything from the new Rivian development coming to eastern Georgia to the Georgia State Patrol.
When Kemp touted the state's work on expanding access to rural broadband, Perdue said the governor was taking credit for legislation Perdue helped pass in the Senate.
"The governor has been running around for the last six months telling people and taking credit for all the things that he didn't do," Perdue said. "He's spending money that we got for him in this COVID thing."
After Trump held a rally in northeastern Georgia for Perdue and the slate of primary challengers he's endorsed that saw low attendance, the former president is hosting a Monday night tele-rally for Perdue.
Early voting begins Monday, May 2 and election day is May 24.