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An Easy Win in Georgia

Brian Kemp ran laps around his bitter Democrat challenger on the gubernatorial debate stage.

Glenn Youngkin Joins Brian Kemp For Campaign Rally In Alpharetta, GA
Brian Kemp speaks at a campaign rally on September 27 in Alpharetta. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

On Monday, Brian Kemp couldn’t stop talking about the gas tax, Stacey Abrams boasted of being “on the right side of history,” and a libertarian with limited verbal skills stumbled through a Murray Rothbard quote and denounced “both parties” for using “force and coercion.”

The Georgia gubernatorial debate was nothing if not predictable.


The debate, hosted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, confirmed what we knew about the two contenders. Kemp is a competent if uncharismatic governor, an establishment type more comfortable talking about tax cuts than conservative social priorities. Abrams is a professional progressive who struggles to shed her activist vocabulary and strike the moderate tone required to win the governor’s mansion in a Southern state.

The moderators grilled Kemp from the gate about a leaked recording in which he signaled his willingness to ban abortifacient drugs, such as Plan B. While the prospect of such a ban wasn’t as far-fetched as perhaps it seems—the Georgia legislature had passed a six-week abortion ban in 2019—Kemp retreated from his remarks, saying it was “not my desire” to ban the morning-after pill. He immediately pivoted to the consultant-approved slogan that his focus was not on unborn life but on “40-year-high inflation and high gas prices and other things that our Georgia families are facing right now.”

The panel of journalists assisting the moderator then turned to Abrams, asking her to answer for past attempts to deny her 2018 election defeat and her calling the election “rigged." Abrams refused to retreat from the substance of her voter-suppression claims, and turned the question on Kemp, citing an anonymous “homeless woman” who “just today” had apparently been “denied the right to vote.” She called "suppression" the “hallmark” of the governor’s leadership.

Kemp in response pointed to record levels of black turnout in recent elections and the election-integrity initiatives passed after the 2020 election, adding, in a line that won him the night, “In Georgia, it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat."

Throughout the debate, Kemp was reluctant to touch culture war issues. He made a vague allusion in the debate’s waning moments to “protecting girls’ sports,” (as if the real problem with mutilating children were the resulting competitive imbalance in high school swimming), and offered a half-hearted defense of the state’s “divisive concepts” law, which prohibits public school teachers from, for example, telling white students they bear hereditary blood guilt. He said he supported adding more “counselors” to schools, which, to this author, suggests that he has completely lost the plot.


Abrams lamented that the "divisive concepts" law required teachers “to teach to a curriculum that does not reflect their values,” which is a terrifying thought.

The libertarian on stage was former Republican Shane Hazell. He was cartoonishly unprepared, regularly speaking over the other candidates and reciting the most banal, undercooked libertarian bromides (“taxation is theft!", “put Georgia freedom first!”). He looked like a youth pastor who had accidentally stumbled out of a retreat weekend onto the stage at the Georgia gubernatorial debate.

His presence was grating but added moments of color. Abrams’s best moment came in an exchange with the libertarian, in which she asked Hazell whether he was concerned that companies owned by the Chinese Communist Party had purchased more than one million acres of Georgia farmland.

“As libertarians we believe that you own your property, that the state can’t take it away from you, and can’t determine who you sell it to,” Hazell said, adding, in an aside that captures the depth of his thinking, that he “imagine[s] that in the end, the free market will work itself out.”

Hazell's best moment came when he grilled Kemp about the governor’s decision to lock down certain businesses in the months immediately following the outbreak of the pandemic. While Hazell made his argument on the ridiculous grounds that Kemp "didn’t have the power” to regulate businesses in the wake of a global health emergency, the notion that Kemp deemed certain workers "inessential" could land among Georgia voters inclined to oppose Kemp from the right.

Abrams, by contrast, failed to land a punch on Kemp. She returned time and again to shopworn advocacy slogans that have crippled Democrats across the country. She attacked Kemp for declining to create a spoils system for black contractors, and denounced his colorblind approach to addressing racial disparities, knocking him for failing to outline a specific plan to close the gap “between minority-owned businesses and majority-owned businesses” in the state of Georgia.

“We need a governor who actually believes in equity—racial equity, economic equity—in the state of Georgia,” she said.

Polls show Kemp, who survived a Trump-endorsed primary challenge, leading Abrams by 5.5 points before the debate. Kemp, who has consistently run ahead of fellow Republican Herschel Walker in the latter’s race against Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, was able to cite a solid record of conservative governance throughout his debate with Abrams.

Given that the alternatives are a woman who thinks Georgia is “the worst state in the country” and a libertarian who wouldn't even wear a tie to a gubernatorial debate, it's hard to envision anything but a decisive victory for the Republican incumbent.