Kemp and Perdue clash over debating election

Georgia’s two leading Republican gubernatorial candidates kicked off the first of three debates on Sunday by bickering over who was responsible for Republican electoral losses in 2020 and 2021, with former U.S. Senator David Perdue pressing his attack on the incumbent governor. Brian Kemp. Democratic control in Washington, while Kemp hit back saying Perdue was trying to blame Democrat Jon Ossoff for his own defeat.

Perdue continued to show support for debunked claims that Democrats fraudulently won the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia.

“The 2020 election was rigged and stolen,” Perdue said during a debate sponsored by Atlanta’s WSB-TV. “All the craziness we see today…it all started right here in Georgia when our governor caved and allowed the radical Democrats to steal our election.”

Kemp said he complied with the law, that Perdue was lying to voters about his claim that Kemp authorized a settlement agreement on how signatures on mail-in ballots were verified, and that Secretary of State and the State Election Commission had primary responsibility for investigating election wrongdoing.

“I was secretary of state for eight years,” Kemp said, “and I don’t need to be lectured by someone who lost their last election about what our election laws are and who has responsibilities to those of our state.”

Kemp was not a party to the settlement agreement, but Perdue says Kemp should have called a special session and asked lawmakers to cancel it. He also says Kemp should have done more to investigate the fraud allegations, saying Kemp is the “best cop” in Georgia.

Kemp was required by state law to certify the results and has repeatedly stated that any other course would have invited endless litigation. Federal and state election officials and Donald Trump’s own attorney general said there was no credible evidence the election was tainted. The former president’s fraud allegations have also been flatly dismissed by the courts, including by Trump-appointed judges.

“You have a candidate who is going to attack my record, unfortunately, all night tonight because they didn’t have a record there to beat Jon Ossoff in 2020,” Kemp said.

The debates come as the vote for the May 24 primary approaches. Counties can begin mailing out absentee ballots on Monday, and in-person early voting begins May 2. Kemp and Perdue are scheduled to meet Thursday in Savannah and May 1 in Atlanta.

Besides Kemp and Perdue, the primary includes Republicans Catherine Davis, Kandiss Taylor and Tom Williams, who were excluded from Sunday’s debate. A second round would take place on June 21 if necessary.

Kemp, facing a Republican primary electorate that polls show largely believes Trump did not lose fairly, did not say he thought the 2020 and 2021 elections were fair, and did not say that he thought there was no fraud.

“Look, I was as frustrated as anyone else,” Kemp said. “That’s why we passed the strongest election integrity law in the country, because a lot of things were done by other people.”

Perdue is endorsed by Trump, who has focused on defeating Kemp. But Kemp has maintained a lead in fundraising and in the polls as he seeks a second term. This dynamic played out in the debate, with Perdue attacking and Kemp alternately defensive and dismissive.

Incumbent has sought to highlight its record, including raising salaries for teachers and state employees, cutting taxes and quickly lifting restrictions after Georgia’s brief COVID-19 lockdown. Kemp said it was a better way to defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams than the endless litigation of past elections.

“It’s a record that will break Stacey Abrams in November, without looking in the rearview mirror,” Kemp said.

Perdue, however, argues that only he can win the votes of Trump’s diehards to beat Abrams.

“He divided us,” Perdue said of Kemp. “He can’t beat Stacey Abrams. And if we want to protect our freedom and our values, we have to vote and we have to make sure that Stacey will never be our governor.”

Kemp repeatedly swerved when asked if he supported the affluent, mostly white neighborhood of Buckhead, which was seceding from the poorer, blacker city of Atlanta.

That effort died in the state legislature this year amid opposition from business groups, some Republican lawmakers and Atlanta city leaders. Kemp said he’s focused on reducing crime in Atlanta instead.

“I think the debate needs to continue,” Kemp said. “I’m going to continue to keep my powder dry. Whether that move shows up or not. That’s a decision the lawmakers are going to make.”

Perdue said it was an example of Kemp being a “weak” governor, supporting Buckhead’s exit from Atlanta.

“They’re trying to protect themselves,” Perdue said of her support for letting Buckhead part ways. “And the only way to do that is to take control of their own government. Keep your powder dry? People are getting killed up there right now.”

Perdue also faulted Kemp for not doing more to illegally arrest people around the country, noting a 2018 ad in which Kemp pledged to round up “illegal criminals” and transport them in his “big truck.” , if necessary.

“What happened, Governor?” The pickup broke down? Perdue asked.

Kemp defended his case, noting that he stationed members of the Georgia National Guard near the Mexican border. But he said increasing the prison population would have been a bad idea at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know how going after people who might have COVID while our law enforcement was sending ventilators and PPE supplies to hospitals would have been a good strategy,” Kemp said.

About Selena J. Killeen

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