With Florida literally on fire with its vicious race for governor, watching the final Georgia gubernatorial debate from here seemed rather calming. The debate was the best of the three this season, but it likely did little to change the minds of Georgia voters. As to grading the performances, I would score all three candidates with high marks– including Libertarian Andrew Hunt, who likely provided the best televised debate performance of any Libertarian in Georgia history. Oddly enough the debate may well prove more significant to any gubernatorial runoff that might take place. In a sea of words devoted to education and Georgia’s economy, three issues were raised that could prove major vote movers in a two-person early December contest. First, both Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic opponent Jason Carter seemed to leave the political door ajar for expanded casino gambling in Georgia.
Deal “shot that poor pony” with his first response to potential expansion of allowing parimutuel betting related to horse racing. However, while he danced around casino gambling with references to the successful expansions of lottery games, there was a gaping hole in the governor’s answer that will likely bring shouts for definitive clarity should he be forced into a runoff. It is no secret that many powerful leaders in Atlanta would like to see a casino-style operation come to the city as it has to other conservative locations in recent years, such as in Cincinnati, Ohio. Carter certainly seemed open to potential revenue “enhancers” as well.
Second, there was the question of providing access to medical marijuana in the state. Deal gave a compelling story related to his support of limited “test programs” out of one Georgia medical center. But the issue could explode if Carter and Deal reach a second round. It evokes strong emotions from voters on all sides. Yet the biggest potential runoff issue arising from the WSB debate came from Deal’s clear indication that an expansion of the right to carry guns on a college campus is worthy of consideration in coming legislative sessions. That shocked me because all polling suggests that most voters in Georgia really don’t like that idea. Carter gave Deal a huge pass by voting for the gun rights bill in this year’s legislative session. One wonders if he will take a different approach regarding Deal’s hint toward extra efforts to allow students to carry guns on campus in areas where alcohol is not served (his example, I believe).
As to impacting the vote on November 4th, it is unlikely this well-produced, fast-paced, but tame (by Florida standards, at least) debate will change many opinions. Too few days exist to craft ads of any consequence around the contest. But if we really do see a runoff, which may or may not be the case, we have seen some strong new issues arise in tonight’s debate.