ATLANTA — The four Republicans hoping for the chance to take on Democratic Rep. John Barrow in November used their first opportunity for direct confrontation Sunday by challenging each other on tax increases, federal spending and who had the best party credentials.
The sparring occurred in a debate held by the Atlanta Press Club and telecast statewide by Georgia Public Broadcasting. The foursome has participated in a series of debates and forums across the district – including four earlier in the week – but Sunday provided the only opening to fire their own questions.
State Rep. Lee Anderson opened with a softball for Maria Sheffield, saying he has always avoided negative tactics in past campaigns. He asked about her toughest challenge in this race, to which she said seeing supporters succumb to a weak economy.
Anderson was wrong if he thought his fellow candidates would follow his example. Instead, Rick Allen cornered him about supporting
tax increases in the Legislature.
Anderson took the question as an attack of his support for the transportation sales tax on the July ballot and offered no apology for giving voters a say.
Allen thrust again, specifying a tax on hospitals that the Legislature approved at the request of Gov. Sonny Perdue.
“We had to vote on that to get the most money that we could out of the federal government,” Anderson said. “It was just common sense.”
Allen asked how Anderson could run for Congress on a balanced-budget platform when he favors maximized spending.
Wright McLeod also needled Anderson about federal spending.
Anderson said he would give up 20 percent of his congressional salary and seek cuts of 10 percent from every department except defense.
McLeod challenged the effectiveness of that approach, arguing that because 60 percent of the federal budget goes to entitlement programs such as food stamps and Medicare, they would require deeper reductions to balance the budget.
McLeod wound up on the receiving end when Sheffield asked about contributions he had made to the campaigns of two Democrats and votes cast in Democratic primaries.
“I have given money to two Democratic candidates in my life,” he acknowledged. “What you’re not telling everybody is that I have
given money to many, many other Republican candidates.”
Sheffield responded by describing herself as a Republican who has never wavered.
“I think that the support of a liberal Democrat, even as a friend, someone whose whole campaign was based on support of Obamacare, is not what the people of the 12th District want to be for,” she said.
Though none of his opponents lobbed questions at him, Allen made a gaffe without prodding.
In a general question from one of the reporters on the panel about paltry campaign war chests compared to Barrow’s, Allen offered a remark that suggested he might be beholden to his contributors by calling them “investors” rather than merely donors.
“I’ve told my investors in this campaign – and we’ve been fortunate to raise the most money – I told them I’d be willing to invest in this campaign,” he said. “And they were very responsive to that.”