Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams face off in a televised debate, in Atlanta, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

For sixty minutes, incumbent Governor Brian P. Kemp and Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams debated over abortion, affordable housing, crime, healthcare, and voting rights at the WSB-TV studios. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Governor Kemp leads Abrams by nearly 8 points with less than one week remaining in Georgia’s early voting period. 

Through Sunday evening, more than 1.5 million Georgians have cast their ballots during the early voting period, which is 40% higher than this point four years ago. The differences between this year’s race and the 2018 gubernatorial race lies in the increased visibility of Abrams’s national profile, Governor Kemp beating back the primary challenge mounted by former U.S. Senator David Perdue and the passage of the following bills in the Georgia Legislature that garnered statewide and national attention:

  • House Bill 481 during the 2019 legislative session which bans abortion after sixth week of the gestation period,
  • Senate Bill 202 which passed during the 2021 legislative session, a bill that forbids the passing out of snacks and water while individuals wait in line to vote,
  • House Bill 1084, which during the 2022 legislative session which forbids teachers from saying one race is superior to another or the idea educators can’t teach that the U.S. is fundamentally racist. It also allows parents of Georgia public school students to file complaints against teachers believed to run afoul of the law. 

With respect to abortion, Governor Kemp did not say he’d support additional restrictions besides the six-week ban currently on the books saying, “it’s not my desire to go move the needle any further.” However, Abrams seized upon Kemp’s response.

“Let’s be clear, he did not say he wouldn’t,” Abrams responded.

Throughout the sixty minute debate, Governor Kemp continued to tout his record regarding being the first state to re-open while in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kemp continued to say the pressure is on Abrams to lock the state down and keep kids out of the classroom for a year.

“We’re one new COVID variant away from Ms. Abrams wanting to lock our state down,” Kemp said.

“38,800 people died in the state of Georgia,” Abrams responded. “We have one of the highest death rates in the nation. I didn’t say we wanted to have lockdowns. I said we needed caution. And that’s what I will always urge when our lives are on the line. When our children’s lives are on the line. We need caution.”

With respect to affordable housing, the question asked was centered around the lack of houses that cost less than $300,000. Gov. Kemp said $750 million in housing assistance grants were dispersed throughout the state.  Kemp also said a lot of issues regarding affordable housing are surrounded by local zoning issues and other things that go on at the local level.

Abrams responded by saying the state does not allow local governments to adequately address local housing issues. 

“First and foremost, the inability of local governments to address affordable housing is coming about because the state of Georgia will not allow them,” Abrams said. “They are not permitted to enforce housing issues. They are not permitted to change certain financing issues and they have turned to the government again and again for the last 20 years and have been turned away by this governor by the state legislature.”

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams face off in a televised debate, in Atlanta, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

Later on, Governor Kemp and Leader Abrams discussed Senate Bill 202 and voter suppression. Repeatedly during the 2021 Legislative Session, Governor Kemp would say, “It’s easy to vote and harder to cheat,” when asked to describe the voting operations in Georgia. 

“When I was elected, we had the largest African American turnout in the country, in our state and we’re seeing this now in the May primary. We had record turnout for Republicans and Democrats and we’re certainly seeing that during early voting.”

However, the turnout has been driven by the restrictions on mail-in voting, once a staple in Republican politics. Under the old system, absentee ballot drop boxes were placed outdoors under 24/7 video surveillance and were available 24 hours per day up until 7 p.m. on Election Day. 

Under the new law, counties may have a maximum of one box per 100,000 registered voters. The boxes are only available during early voting hours. The 38 absentee ballot drop boxes Fulton County had were reduced to eight. 

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

Abrams also said Governor Kemp knows there was no fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election. Kemp agreed.

“He was upset about the results and the only results he could have been upset about was the record turnout of Black and brown voters, of seniors, of young people, of people who were being kept out of the system,” Abrams said. “I am proud that I’ve spent 30 years of my life defending the right to vote, defending access to the right to vote. The right to vote is sacred to me.”

As the early voting period is drawing to a close, Kemp said his record is strong and is worthy of being reelected. 

“I’m so optimistic about the future of our state,” Kemp said. “We have the lowest unemployment rate in the history of our state. We 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.”

Meanwhile, Abrams is focused on being the change agent that the state of Georgia needs to strengthen its long-term outlook saying, “I want to do better by Georgia.”

“Six hospitals have closed, housing prices are skyrocketing and communities are in turmoil. They are worried about their rights and they’re worried about their futures. I want to put you first every single day,” Abrams said.

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...