ATLANTA (AP) – Early in-person voting begins in Georgia on Monday, hours before the gubernatorial candidates meet in the first of two scheduled debates. Democrats are especially trying to get their supporters to vote early in races involving a key seat in the US Senate.
Incumbent Republican Brian Kemp, who has touted his record of reopening Georgia’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic and blasted Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams for being soft on crime, floated a slew of pro-crime proposals on Monday, signaling it could be a major debate topic.
Kemp proposes that the prison sentence for recruiting youth under 18 into a gang be increased to a minimum of 10 years from the current minimum of five years. He also suggests making it harder for judges to release people arrested without bail, saying judges should consider a person’s criminal history and bar bail for people who have failed to appear in court.
Both proposals, which would have to be approved by the state legislature before becoming law, are likely to draw fire from advocates of putting fewer people in Georgia prisons. Kemp and other Republicans have repeatedly undermined efforts to make Georgia’s criminal justice system less punitive over the past four years, even as they said they respected the reform legacy of previous Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
Kemp also wants to provide loan forgiveness of up to $20,000 for people training to become state police officers and up to $100,000 for people who become doctors.
Abrams, who has trailed Kemp in the polls as the two match up again after Abrams’ narrow 2018 loss, said she wants to use Monday’s debate to highlight her plans to expand Medicaid, increase child care subsidies, raise teacher pay, housing make it more accessible and expand the possibilities of small business.
“I’m going to talk to everyone about what’s at stake, what the options are and why we haven’t gotten all the benefits that Georgia is entitled to,” she said. “I want to make sure that I do that Brian Kemp doesn’t care, he’s not going to help and he’s spent the last four years attacking our freedoms.”
Kemp’s campaign spokesman, Cody Hall, said Kemp’s goal in the debate will be to “get the facts out there about the governor, but also make it clear how that record is at odds with where Stacey Abrams wants to take our state.”
Libertarian Shane Hazel will share the stage.
What will likely be the only debate in the Georgia Senate race between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican candidate Herschel Walker took place last Friday in Savannah. That was followed by a debate between Warnock and Libertarian Chase Oliver on Sunday in Atlanta.
More than 4 million people could vote in state elections this year, and if past patterns hold, more than half are likely to vote before Election Day. With Donald Trump’s past baseless attacks on mail-in ballots prone to fraud, early voting could shift to Democrats. Abrams told reporters Thursday that she hopes to push 100,000 to 200,000 voters to the polls in the first week.
“Everyone you’ve ever met should know this: people you’re mad at, people who are mad at you, people you owe money to, people who owe you money, people you’ve broken up with, this is a good time to get back together ” Abrams said Friday during a fundraiser in Atlanta attended by first lady Jill Biden. “But we need everyone across the state to show up in the first week of early voting.”
Voters in Georgia are already sending ballots by mail, and more than 1,000 had arrived in the mail by Friday. More than 200,000 people have already requested postal ballots, and the deadline for requesting them is October 28. Early in-person voting will run until Nov. 4, and counties are mandated to offer two Saturdays for voting and have the option to offer two Sundays.
Hall said Kemp’s goal is to remain “competitive” in early voting. “We feel confident in our ability to do that,” Hall said.
Kemp and Abrams are scheduled to meet for a second debate on October 30.
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