Tensions ran high at the Atlanta Press Club debate on Thursday, where the candidates facing off for the Democratic nomination in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District attacked each others’ liberal credentials in advance of the July 24 runoff contest.
The two candidates have exchanged barbs for weeks. Earlier this month, David Kim, a Harvard alum and teenage magazine publisher, accused his rival, Georgia State professor Carolyn Bourdeaux, of “Jim Crow” tactics after Korean translators working for his campaign were told to move away from a polling site. Bourdeaux responded at the time, saying that her campaign had nothing to do with the incident and denouncing the comparison to Jim Crow.
The spat over Kim’s translators spilled over into Thursday’s debate, where Bourdeaux accused Kim of sensationalism for his initial accusations that her campaign participated in voter suppression. Kim stood by his accusations, calling the incident “voter intimidation.”
“Jim Crow was about systematic violent oppression, and I had nothing to do with these poll workers,” Bourdeaux said. “These are outrageous claims and, frankly, smack of desperation.”
Kim also fired back at Bourdeaux, decrying her role in the state’s budget cuts to healthcare and education from 2007 to 2010, when she served as the director of the state senate’s budget office.
Although she worked as nonpartisan staff, Bourdeaux helped carry out the agenda of the Republican state legislature during the great recession, overseeing massive budget cuts as Georgia’s revenue decreased by 20 percent. Georgia’s balanced budget laws prevent the state from spending more than it takes in in a given year.
Bourdeaux said on Thursday that, as a staff member and not an elected official, her hands were tied.
“The healthcare and education cuts enacted in Washington are affecting lives and hurting people here in Georgia,” Kim said. “You did the same thing here … You claimed that you didn’t make those healthcare cuts but you did.”
The two candidates also clashed over the fact that Kim did not vote in the 2016 election.
“My opponent has attacked me for budget cuts, but I want to point out that he has never publicly taken a stand for anything,” Bourdeaux said.
While Bourdeaux claimed Kim’s voting record reflected a lack of convictions, Kim touted his own history as emblematic of voters like him who feel disenfranchised by the lack of strong candidates on the left.
“A lot of voters like myself felt very apathetic … Like it was a choice between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb, so to speak,” Kim said. “We need to get away from the idea that our only choices are professional politicians.”
The two candidates are facing off in one of Georgia’s most rapidly-changing districts, where an influx of immigrants in Gwinnett has reshaped the once-conservative electorate. The district is now more than 50 percent minorities, and Hillary Clinton won there in 2016.
The Democratic nominee will face off against Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in November.
In a far less fiery debate on Thursday, the two candidates for the Democratic nomination in the 6th Congressional District each made the case that they could succeed where Jon Ossoff failed and unseat incumbent Karen Handel in November.
However, both Kevin Abel and Lucy McBath were careful to avoid any stance that would align them with a specific wing of the Democratic party, sidestepping any endorsement .
When asked if they would vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to remain the head of House Democrats, neither candidate answered yes—McBath, who entered the campaign at the eleventh hour and has run a platform focused on healthcare and gun reform, said it’s too early to tell.
Meanwhile, Abel—an Alpharetta businessman and immigrant—acknowledged Pelosi’s “tremendous work” but said he would not vote for her.
“I believe that we need new leadership in the Democratic party,” Abel said. “It is time to find new leadership who represents the interest of the American people.”
But, unlike Democratic candidates nationwide who are distancing themselves from the party establishment to back a more progressive platform, Abel and McBath opted to walk a more moderate line. Neither candidate answered yes to the question of whether they would support Medicare for all, an issue that has become a litmus test between moderate and progressive democrats.
The 6th District candidates also exchanged barbs that have arisen repeatedly throughout the campaign. McBath pointed to blog posts Abel made in 2016 calling for the creation of a third party comprised of liberals and conservatives, to which he responded that he supports the Democratic party today.
“Working against the Democratic party is disconcerting,” McBath said. “Who do you plan to join you, including Republicans?”
Later in the debate, Abel was asked whether he believes there should be more women in Congress, as a candidate facing off against a female primary challenger in a district represented by Karen Handel.
“I think Congress should reflect the demography of the United States, so I do believe there should be more women in Congress,” Abel said. “But I believe that in this 6th District, I am the best candidate to defeat Karen Handel and represent our demography.”
The primary runoff will take place on July 24, and early voting is already underway.