Candidates sound off in last gubernatorial debates

Handel, Barnes under scrutiny as front-runners
Gubernatorial candidates (from left to right) Thurbert Baker, Roy Barnes, Bill Bolton, Carl Camon, Randal Mangham, DuBose Porter and David Poythress debate in Atlanta on Sunday.

ATLANTA --- Candidates who have been attacking one another through the final weeks of the primary threw few jabs during their last gubernatorial debates Sunday night.

The Democrats concentrated on education and passenger rail service as their top priorities. The Republicans offered various tax cuts and vowed to trim government spending.

The separate debates were sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and broadcast statewide by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The Democratic debate included all seven candidates, Thurbert Baker, Roy Barnes, Bill Bolton, Carl Camon, Randal Mangham, DuBose Porter and David Poythress. Of the Republicans, Jeff Chapman, Nathan Deal, Eric Johnson, Ray McBerry and John Oxendine attended, but front-runner Karen Handel and long-shot Otis Putnam opted not to attend.

Although Handel was represented by an empty lectern, she was clearly on the minds of her GOP opponents. When candidates had the chance to question each other, Oxendine teed one up for Deal.

"Mr. Congressman, why do you think Karen Handel is unfit to be the next governor of the state of Georgia?" Oxendine asked.

"I believe it's important for the Republican Party to nominate someone ... who will actually show up at televised debates such as this," Deal said.

Early in the primary season, Handel stopped attending debates to which McBerry was invited, refusing to share a stage with him because of accusations that he molested a teenage girl who attended his church. He again denied the charges during the debate.

The Republicans who did attend also attacked her for favoring exceptions to her anti-abortion stance in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother. None would commit to supporting the eventual nominee until they knew the winner was what several called "a true conservative."

The Democrats aimed their questions at front-runner Barnes.

Baker said that 20 years ago as a gubernatorial candidate, Barnes proposed $4 billion in new programs without offering specific funding sources and $2 billion in promises this year.

"First, you said you'd find the money by raising various sales taxes. Then you excluded almost all of them one by one," Baker said.

Barnes said he'll use his experience from his one term as governor to balance the budget while living up to his promises.

"The reason I can do it is because I have done it before," he said.

Vote Tuesday

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday for Georgia's Democratic and Republican primaries. Registered voters must present identification.

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