Kemp assails national economy while touting Georgia record

Jeff Amy
Associated Press

McDonough, Ga. – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday took aim at the “Biden recession” and tacked the blame on Democrat Stacey Abrams, becoming one of many Republicans to seek to weigh down their rivals with voters’ worries about the economy.

How voters see the economy will be key in November’s elections nationwide. Currently, Democratic President Joe Biden has rock-bottom approval ratings, and the looming possibility of a recession is compounding political woes brought on by high inflation.

But while the argument against Democrats and the economy is straightforward for Republicans including Georgia’s Herschel Walker, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, it’s trickier for Kemp.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at The Neighborhood Lot on Friday, July 29, 2022, in McDonough, Ga.

Along with other Republican governors seeking reelection, such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Kemp has to make a double argument that also defends his economic record. Kemp at times contends that Georgia’s economy is good and the national economy is bad, even though Georgia voters only experience one economy.

“Georgians know that our economy is fighting through the Biden-Abrams agenda, despite what’s going on nationally,” Kemp told reporters in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough, arguing Abrams bears blame for “runaway spending and disastrous policies” because she campaigned for Biden and even sought to be his vice president.

Abrams said Thursday that Kemp’s division between Georgia and the national economy is “mathematically and economically impossible,” and that Kemp has “woefully underperformed” at helping people.

“He has done very well for those who are already doing well,” Abrams told reporters after a speech in the north Georgia town of Clayton. “But if you were struggling in Georgia, Brian Kemp has done absolutely nothing to help you move forward.”

The economy also is central in Georgia’s closely contested Senate race. Warnock couches many proposals as meant to fight higher prices, including seeking a suspension of the federal gas tax and price limits on insulin. Walker focuses on increasing domestic oil production and attacks Warnock as a rubber stamp for Biden.

In reality, the economy is “a mixed bag,” said Emory University finance professor Tom Smith. Georgia has record low unemployment and more people working than ever before. Smith said the worst of inflation may be over. Gas prices have fallen by more than 50 cents a gallon in Georgia during July, according to AAA. But Smith said the economy is showing wobbles, and that a recession may have been going on for months. He said it’s unrealistic to expect office seekers to portray that whole picture.

“Politicians are going to say political things,” Smith said.

On McDonough’s courthouse square, some voters said Friday that they’re weighing the economy.

Times are good for Keith Sweat, who owns an art gallery and framing business. He said his business “skyrocketed” when the COVID-19 pandemic made people focus on beautifying their homes, and hasn’t slowed down.

“People ware wary, but they haven’t stopped spending, and that is unusual,” said Sweat. He said he’s not aligned with either party.

Karen Denegall of Ellenwood was helping her sister relocate her coffee shop. She writes off fluctuations of gas prices to the war in Ukraine, but said she’s feeling the pain of high food prices.

“What can we do to make groceries go down?” asked Denegall. A medical worker, she said her own finances are OK, but said she expects some Democrats to defect to Republicans.

Kemp on Friday again said that his decision to quickly remove pandemic restrictions was a key driver of prosperity. He pledged further actions in coming months to help voters. He’s already pushed through more than $1 billion in tax rebates and has suspended the collection of Georgia’s gas tax since March, at the cost of roughly $150 million a month.

Abrams has called on Kemp to suspend the gas tax through the end of the year and wants to issue another round of income tax refund checks using billions in state surplus funds. She says Democrats, including Warnock, should get credit for the “resources that have poured into the state” through COVID-19 relief, fattening its coffers and goosing the job market.

Abrams has put forth a housing plan that she ways would improve affordability and reduce costs. She also argues that expanding the state-federal Medicaid health insurance plan to all adults would reduce costs for Georgians.

In the Senate race, Walker argues Warnock shares blame with Biden for every economic ill.

“Why has my opponent not voted that we can continue to have an economy that’s going to be flourishing?” Walker said at a recent campaign stop in north Georgia.

Warnock, for his part, counters by highlighting any aspect of his work in Washington that aligns him with “ordinary people” and “working-class Georgians.”

“People are still struggling,” he acknowledges in his standard campaign speech.

While Warnock doesn’t openly embrace Biden, he touts the American Rescue Plan. Biden’s massive pandemic-related spending plan passed without any Republican votes and included a tax cut for lower-income workers.

“If you’re going to give a tax cut – and I believe in tax cuts – you ought to give a tax cut to those who actually need it,” Warnock said while campaigning in Atlanta.

He’s pushed his work on the so-called CHIPS bill that passed the Senate this week with 17 Republican votes. The plan, which still requires a House vote, would jumpstart microchip production in the United States, and Warnock emphasizes specific benefits for Georgia firms.

Warnock also highlights Georgia projects in a sweeping infrastructure plan that garnered some GOP support, along with proposals to lower insulin costs for diabetics and his call to suspend the federal gas tax. Warnock unfurled the latter proposal in February, ahead of many other Democrats, including Biden. And, in another move that shows a fault line between himself and the White House, Warnock emphasizes that he’s “pushing” the White House to be more aggressive in forgiving student loan debts. Biden has said he expects to make a decision on any widespread aid in August.

All those proposals and actions are aimed at reaching voters like Denegall, who said she’s undecided right now.

“I’ve got until November to see how things are going,” she said.

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Barrow reported from Atlanta