Political Insider

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The Jolt: A ‘blue’ Democratic debate for governor takes up vouchers, early voting


A few notes on Tuesday’s excellent Atlanta Press Club debate at Georgia Public Broadcasting studios between the two Democratic candidates for governor, Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans:

-- It’s considered in poor taste to speak of the wardrobe of female political candidates, but we’re going to take the chance. The situation was presumably unplanned, and certainly unremarked upon, but both candidates showed up at their podiums in dresses that were nearly the identical shade of blue. 

Watching on TV, especially in close frames, the effect was very much like watching two male candidates in identical “Mad Men” garb. Uniforms always allow you to instantly pay more attention to the people inside them -- that’s their purpose.

And in a race that has been very much about black and white, the blue sameness of the candidates provided a kind of unifying subtext.

-- We’ve already told you about the Tuesday night tussle over the HOPE scholarship. And how both Abrams and Evans sought to make Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams, with his “deportation bus,” the poster child for the GOP and immigration.

But the sharpest portion of the debate came when the two former state lawmakers posed questions to each other.

-- Evans asked Abrams, the former House minority leader, why she never endorsed Keisha Lance Bottoms in last year’s race for mayor of Atlanta. Abrams replied that when she and Bottoms discussed the topic, the future mayor gave “a tentative endorsement of Evans.”

Abrams decided she would support Bottoms as a voter but would not publicly endorse her. “She was the only self-declared Democrat in the race,” Evans replied. “It’s important that we stand together at all times and not just when its politically expedient for us.”

-- Abrams interrogated Evans, a House member representing the Smyrna area, on her support for private school scholarships, which Abrams termed a “backdoor voucher” and criticized her for saying she would refuse to repeal the program.

“Can you explain how you can stand on the side of public education and yet agree to divert almost $100 million per year from public education?” she asked.

Evans called it a “distortion of my record” and said she’s never voted for vouchers.

She continued: “I stand on the side of public education because I personally know how important public education is to getting students access to the opportunities that they need. There are no vouchers in Georgia. In fact, they're unconstitutional.”

After the debate, Abrams’ campaign said Evans tried to misdirect and “has yet to explain why we should spend $100 million dollars subsidizing our private schools.”

And Evans’ camp pointed to a 2013 vote on a broad education measure that increased the program’s cap from $50 million to $58 million. Both Abrams and Evans voted ‘yes’ on the proposal.

-- Perhaps the most curious part of the debate arrived when Evans queried Abrams about her decision to co-sponsor a bill that reduced early voting in Georgia from 45 days to 21 days. The gist of Abrams’ argument: Smaller, poorer counties could not afford the longer period, and she was able to add a day of Saturday voting.

And while she did vote for the measure, “I did not co-sponsor a bill for early voting,” Abrams said.

Evans’ reply: “We will be posting a bill with your signature online so that voters can see for themselves.” Within seconds, an aide tapped a few keys, sending the image out on Twitter.

Abrams apparently understood the situation required immediate defusing.

Several questions later, she diverted herself from the topic at hand to say this:

“As House Democratic leader, I am proud of my reputation for transparency, for honesty, and for responsibility. In that light, I’m actually going to correct something I said earlier. That, yes, I was not one of the original sponsors of the voting bill, but I did sign it at the end. That is true.”

Watch the debate here:

This isn’t the last Abrams-Evans meeting. The pair will hold one last debate at 1p.m. Sunday, courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.

***

The contours of the Georgia race for governor are beginning to get a little more definition.

A poll released late Tuesday by 11Alive News shows Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle leading the GOP field with 35 percent – and Secretary of State Brian Kemp solidly in second-place with 17 percent.

It’s the first poll that doesn’t show Kemp bunched up with other rivals in the race for the No. 2 spot in next week’s vote. The poll of likely GOP voters conducted by SurveyUSA has former state Sen. Hunter Hill at 10 percent and executive Clay Tippins at 8 percent. State Sen. Michael Williams is within the margin of error at 3 percent. Roughly one-quarter of GOP voters are undecided.

According to the 11Alive/Survey USA poll, the Democratic side is starting to take shape, too. Stacey Abrams leads Stacey Evans 43-24, with roughly one-third of voters undecided.

It’s always a little iffy to compare two different polls conducted by two different outfits -- methods and the sampling pool won’t be identical. However, a poll conducted by the AJC and Channel 2 earlier this month had Cagle with a commanding lead in the GOP race and Kemp and Hill in a statistical tie for second. That was before Kemp put $1 million behind two provocative ads that earned him national attention – and outrage from Democratic critics.

On the Democratic side, the AJC/WSB poll showed Abrams leading Evans 32-15 – with more than half of likely primary voters undecided.

Some other findings from the SurveyUSA poll:

-Cagle leads both Abrams and Evans in a head-to-head matchup by about four percentage points.

-Abrams leads Evans among black voters, the biggest bloc of the Democratic electorate, by a 47-17 margin. They are running roughly even among white voters.

-Cagle has the lion’s share of voters who identify as conservative (35 percent) while Kemp did best with younger voters.

--About one-third of voters said they were less likely to vote for Abrams because of the more than $200,000 in debt she owes. Of those, only 1 in 6 were Democrats. Two-thirds of Democrats and one-half of independents said it made no difference. One in 10 Democrats said it made it more likely they’ll back her.

***

Bobby Kaple is going all out in the final days before the election. 

The former newscaster, one of four Democrats running in next week’s Sixth District primary to take on U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, this fall, is launching a six-figure ad buy in the lead-up to the election. 

His “Thank God for Obamacare” spot will run on local networks today through the election. The campaign has run the introductory ad on cable over the last month, but the new buy is designed to float Kaple’s name in front of an even larger audience. 

We don’t know exactly how much he’s spending, but his campaign reported roughly $290,000 cash on hand at the end of April. 

Given that the race’s Democratic primary is widely expected to go into a July 24 runoff between Kaple, gun control advocate Lucy McBath and/or businessman Kevin Abel, we’re sure his campaign won’t shy away from spending big in order to get him one of those two slots. 

***

We got wind that Superior Court Judge Murphy Miller, the son of the late Gov. Zell Miller, sent his letter of resignation to Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this month. The 63-year-old wrote that it was a privilege to serve the Enotah Judicial Circuit and thanked Deal for his service. Congrats, judge.

***

U.S. Sen. David Perdue defended his ailing colleague John McCain on Tuesday as other Republicans stepped up calls for the White House to apologize after a presidential aide insulted the Arizona Republican and former prisoner of war. 

“I regret that comment by that employee, that certainly does not speak for this President or any of us in this caucus,” Perdue told reporters. Our colleague Jamie Dupree broke down the scene in the corridors of the Senate yesterday. 

***

In endorsement news today:

-- American Conservative Union endorsed Republican David Shafer, a candidate for lieutenant governor. The group is a sponsor of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

-- Georgia Right to Life endorsed Republican Rick Jeffares, another candidate for lieutenant governor. 

-- Actors Alyssa Milano and Bradley Whitford and civil rights activist Shaun King endorsed Democrat Richard Dien Winfield for Congress in Georgia’s 10th District.

-- State Rep. Pedro Marin of Duluth announced he’s backing businessman David Kim in the Democratic primary for the Seventh District congressional contest. 

***

Late Tuesday, we outlined the implications for Georgia posed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn a ban on gambling on individual sporting events. This morning, the Associated Press says that the decision by the high court could also impact the “sanctuary cities” issue:

The Trump administration opposed the outcome reached by the high court at least in part because it could signal trouble in its legal fight against so-called sanctuary states and cities. Seven of the nine justices — five conservatives and two liberals — backed a robust reading of the Constitution's 10th Amendment and a limit on the federal government's power to force the states go along with Washington's wishes.

The federal anti-gambling law is unconstitutional because "it unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion. "It's as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals."

There is a direct link between the court's decision in the sports betting case and the administration's effort to punish local governments that resist Trump's immigration enforcement policies, several legal commentators said.

"The court ruled definitively that the federal government can't force states to enforce federal law. In the immigration context, this means it can't require state or local officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities," said Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.


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