The event was the sixth of seven planned debates between those lined up to replace U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who will retire at the end of the year. Each hopes to be the lone Republican to come out of the May 20 primary to face the Democratic candidate in November.
The dais at the Columbia County Exhibition Center held three U.S. House members, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston; Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state; David Perdue, a Georgia Ports Authority board member and a former CEO of Dollar General; Art Gardner, a patent attorney from Cobb County; and Derrick Grayson, a minister and engineer with Atlanta’s transit system.
Perdue, who is leading in the most recent polls, positioned himself as a “different type of candidate,” a Washington outsider and businessman who understands what has to be done to fix the nation’s “financial crisis.”
He repeatedly emphasized that no other major policy initiatives could be taken on until the government balanced its budget, eliminated burdensome regulation and moved to “release the power” of the U.S. economy by getting government out of the way.
Handel dismissed Perdue’s business experience while heaping blame for the nation’s woes at the feet of the congressmen on the stage. She said voters couldn’t expect different results by voting for the same politicians again and again.
“It is the career politicians and out-of-touch elitists who have gotten us into this mess,” she said.
Kingston said he wouldn’t apologize for his record of being an advocate for Georgia. He touted his ratings with organizations such as the American Conservative Union and National Right to Life, and he noted his recent endorsement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He said the difference between him and other conservatives in Washington is that he is willing to engage with the other side.
“I’m running for the Senate because the American dream is in peril,” Kingston said. “That’s why I’m giving up what would be a safe election to enter what will be an absolute street brawl for Senate.”
The first major difference between candidates appeared on the topic of abortion. Gardner provoked a few murmurs and scattered applause when he discussed his “pro-choice” philosophy. He said this is one area where Republicans should agree to disagree and move on.
“It is fruitless for one side or the other to try convince the other that their side is correct,” he said.
Grayson, like the other six candidates on the stage, said he was personally opposed to abortion. But from a strict “constitutional perspective,” he said, it was something the federal government had no business in. He said it was best left to the states to regulate.
“The government has no business in the taking of a life,” he said. “I don’t want them even involved with the death penalty.”
On the subject of the Second Amendment, all the candidates proclaimed stances against laws that limit an individual’s rights to own firearms, with Gingrey disputing Kingston’s claim to being the candidate with highest rating from the National Rifle Association.
When asked about whether he thought human activity was behind global warming, Kingston sidestepped the issue, saying the country needed to “fearlessly” explore every avenue of developing energy resources in North America, including nuclear power, natural gas, and “clean” coal.
Gardner, a Georgia Tech graduate, said he had to believe what the majority of climate scientists were saying about climate change, although he didn’t think there was convincing evidence that human activity was a cause.
Broun was unequivocal on what he thought of the issue.
“There is no scientific consensus that there is such a thing as human-induced global warming,” he said, adding that he wanted to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I want to get rid of the EPA because it is killing jobs and the economy,” he said.
Gingrey said he had his doubts about carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas that contributes to the problem and cast aspersions on the administration’s efforts to address the problem. He said most scientists believed methane was a greenhouse gas.
“What are we going to do,” he said, “put a surgical mask on the rear end of every cow in the country?”