CUMMING, Ga. (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence took the stage Tuesday in Georgia to reinforce the main thrusts of Gov. Brian Kemp's case for reelection against Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, arguing that Kemp has been good for Georgia's economy and Abrams is soft on crime.
“No one in Georgia’s history has done more to create jobs, cut taxes, restore sanity to your schools, put criminals behind bars, protect the unborn and secure all the God-given liberties enshrined in the Constitution of the United States than Gov. Brian Kemp," Pence told about 150 people in Cumming, part of a belt of Republican-dominated Atlanta exurbs key to Kemp's reelection.
Abrams, who lost narrowly to Kemp four years ago, used Pence's Georgia swing to amplify her long-running critique of Kemp’s refusal to expand the Medicaid health insurance program. She stood outside a major Atlanta hospital that closed its doors permanently at midnight Monday and noted that Pence, as governor of Indiana, embraced Medicaid expansion even though it was part of Democrats’ 2010 health insurance overhaul.
Pence’s visit, along with subsequent appearances this week by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, will spotlight Kemp's campaign in the closing days of advance voting and ahead of what the GOP hopes is a surge of Election Day ballots.
But the former vice president’s appearance also spotlights Georgia Republicans’ tightrope in assembling a winning coalition of voters still loyal to former President Donald Trump and Republican traditionalists while luring moderates back to the GOP.
Both Kemp and Pence ran afoul of Trump after the 2020 presidential election when they refused to help the defeated president block certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s win. Trump’s midterm campaign circuit has excluded Georgia, where his presence in 2020 and ahead of two January 2021 Senate runoffs was ultimately viewed as harmful to Republicans.
Kemp gave a four-minute speech slimmed down to his essential message — that Georgia's economy thrived after he decided to lift pandemic restrictions, while Abrams is disqualified because she's insufficiently supportive of police.
“We’ve been doing good in this day because we have been saying no to Stacey Abrams,” Kemp said, speaking in the parking lot of a cigar bar in heavily Republican Forsyth County.
“We were listening to you, and because we’ve done that, we’ve got an incredible economy," Kemp said. "We've got the most people ever working in the history of the state, the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the state.”
Pence jabbed that “Stacey Abrams may be the weakest candidate on crime in the history of Georgia," after Abrams in a Sunday debate dismissed Kemp's endorsement by more than 100 sheriffs. She said she was not a part of a “good ol' boys club” and said “I don’t have 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take Black people off the street, who want to be able to go without accountability," before backtracking and saying “I don’t believe every sheriff wants that.”
Pence, in a common Republican move this year, linked Abrams with an unpopular Biden.
“If she found her way back in the statehouse as governor, she’ll fall right in line with the failed Biden-Harris agenda," Pence said.
In Atlanta, Abrams stood in front the Atlanta Medical Center just east of downtown as a crane lowered a sign from the massive facility that shut its doors permanently overnight, leaving metro Atlanta with just one top level trauma center.
“We have lost more hospitals under this one governor than most states have lost in the last decades,” Abrams said, blaming Kemp for leaving billions in federal money untapped because he’s declined to expand Medicaid.
“Brian Kemp is aggressively undermining, dismantling and harming the provision of health care in the state of Georgia,” Abrams said.
Georgia remains one of 12 states, nearly all Republican-dominated, that haven't expanded Medicaid. Abrams emphasized that Pence and Christie both expanded Medicaid as governors and that Ducey campaigned on a promise to repeal Arizona’s expansion only to relent once he took office and “saw that it was working.”
Kemp, she said, “is so unconcerned with the health and welfare of the people of Georgia that he would rather stand by a confounding ideology that is not shared by fellow Republicans.”
Abrams made Medicaid expansion a centerpiece of her 2018 bid against Kemp and has renewed her push, launching her 2022 campaign in a southwest Georgia town where a hospital closed in 2021. Medicaid is a joint state-federal program used to provide insurance to low-income Americans and subsidies to hospitals that treat them.
“We are losing money because he’s literally sending it to New Jersey, to New York, to California, the states that he seems to revile,” Abrams said. “It’s as though a Brink's truck backed up to the state of Georgia with $12 billion in it, and Brian Kemp said give it to other people.”
Tuesday's show of GOP strength noticeably did not include Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who has been dogged by multiple allegations that he paid for and pressured two women to have abortions, in opposition to the anti-abortion views he’s expressed as a candidate. Kemp has for weeks sidestepped questions about Walker, saying only that he’s trying to lead “the whole ticket” to victory. Walker campaigned on his own Tuesday.
A Walker aide said Tuesday that he was not aware whether there had been contact between the campaign and Pence's team, but he added that Walker’s closing bus tour had been planned for weeks. When Pence came to Georgia in late 2020, he campaign jointly with then-Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both lost runoffs.
Barrow reported from Atlanta
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