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January 19, 2014

Republican senate hopefuls gather in Adel

ADEL —  In the first of seven scheduled debates across Georgia, Republican primary candidates for Saxby Chambliss’ Senate seat met in Adel Saturday night to debate each other and make their case for why they should receive the nomination.

The seven candidates — Art Gardner, Karen Handel, Paul Broun, David Perdue, Derrick Grayson, Eugene Yu and Jack Kingston—represent a number of backgrounds: an engineer turned lawyer, a former Georgia secretary of state, a doctor who was elected to Congress in 2007, a former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General, a minister, a former Army man whose parents immigrated to the United States when he was young and a Congressional representative with 20 years of experience.

With the debate serving as the first glimpse of what the Republican primary race is going to be like, almost every candidate used their opening statement to agree with each other on several issues.

Each one said that the nation’s debt, spending and budget are spiraling out of control, that Obamacare needs to be repealed and that governmental regulation in general needs to be reduced.

The first question, concerning what each candidate would look for in the next Supreme Court Justice, revealed more agreement, with Kingston, Broun and Yu calling for a strict Constitutionalist, Handel and Perdue seeking a judge who no history of activism, Grayson calling “someone not beholden to either party, a true conservative” and Gardner making the argument that the Court as a whole needs more diversity, not just in ethnicity and gender, but in geography, location and educational background.

The second question — what would you do to get spending under control — showed the different focuses each candidate has.

Handel called for zero-based budgeting, a process where every line item in the budget would have to be approved with no reference to previous budget levels.

Broun suggested getting rid of the U. S. Department of Education and returning its funding to the states, where perhaps it could be used to pay teachers more.

Along with the Department of Education, Yu wanted to cut the Departments of Energy, the Department of Commerce and the EPA.

Perdue would broaden the tax base as well as cutting spending, while Grayson said that the only way to cut spending was to send new people to Washington, and Gardner said the only way to cut spending is to face it head on.

“Every dollar the government spends goes to some person or some company,” said Gardner. “That’s what makes it uncomfortable.”

Both Handel and Kingston pointed to budget cutting efforts they had made in the past, Handel while president of the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce, Kingston while serving in Congress.

The rest of the debate made apparent other differences between candidates.

Broun argued that his Patient Options Act would make American health care cheaper and better, while Yu unveiled his Five Point Plan for reducing healthcare costs.

Each candidate pointed to their own personal histories as reasons why voters should trust them, with Kingston and Broun pointing to their voting records while in office.

When the question came up of how best to help agriculture in Georgia, Grayson and Handel argued that  the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) should be separated from the Farm Bill and Broun and Kingston called for an end to EPA regulations on farming. Purdue wants to see a better U.S. Energy policy, while Gardner suggested that a a consistent labor pool could be formed by letting undocumented workers work legally in the U.S.

For the final question, in what might be the deciding issue for the Republican party both in Georgia and across the U.S. in coming years, candidates were asked how they would bring in voters who didn’t traditionally vote Republican.

Yu, an immigrant from South Korea who’s actively involved with the Korean community across America, said he would reach out to his constituents. Grayson, the only other non-white candidate for the primary spot, pointed to a history of reaching “out to people where they are.”

Perdue pointed to his own recent history of speaking at black churches in Albany, while Handel, Kingston, and Broun called for more caring and engagement with non-Republican voters.

Breaking from the pack, Gardner blamed the Republican party’s “culture wars” for keeping away younger votes. By “walking away somewhat” from cultural issues and “pushing this message,” Gardner said, he’s been able to attract young people to his campaign.

Martha Zoller, a radio talk show host and moderator for the debate, closed out the evening by encouraging attendees to get behind the eventual Republican nominee, whichever one that may be.

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