ATLANTA — The three candidates for governor clashed in the first televised debate of the campaign Sunday night, sparring over personal finances, fiscal stewardship and President Barack Obama.
Democrat Roy Barnes took several swipes at the continuing financial troubles of his Republican opponent Nathan Deal. At one point, Deal suggested Barnes had made $2 billion in campaign promises he couldn’t keep. Barnes fired back that Deal was using bad math.
“I’ll be very frank with you. I don’t trust your adding on financial matters,” Barnes quipped.
The debate was sponsored by the student government associations of Georgia College & State University, Georgia Southern University, Morehouse College, University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. It was televised by Georgia Public Broadcasting.
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Education dominated the questions from students. Barnes, Deal and Libertarian John Monds each extolled the virtues of the HOPE scholarship.
But the fireworks came when the candidates questioned each other, the first time in the campaign they’ve done so in an organized debate.
Deal has been answering a barrage of questions about his personal finances stemming from a $2.3 million loan he must repay for backing his daughter and son-in-law’s failed sporting goods venture. Deal has also twice had to amend his state financial disclosure statement to add in loans and assets he left off.
Sunday, Barnes opened up a new front, asking how Deal has managed to pay very low federal income taxes — 1 percent of his adjusted gross income in 2006 and 3 percent in 2007. Combined, Deal earned nearly $400,000 for those two years.
“Where can we get that same deal?” Barnes asked.
Deal countered that he has “paid the taxes the law requires of me.”
He tried to turn the tables on Barnes, suggesting that he has not been making millions of dollars suing Georgians.
“The strain on my family is like the strain on many people’s families of this state. We are working to meet our obligations,” Deal said.
Deal argued his personal financial troubles would in no way impact his ability to lead the state and manage its complicated finances through a budget crunch.
But in his closing statement, Barnes said Deal had shown himself to be a poor fiscal manager.
“If you had a business who would you choose at this particular point in time to run that business?” he asked.
Deal also attacked Barnes in his closing remarks by accusing the former governor of leaving the state with a deficit when he was ousted from the governor’s mansion in 2002, something Barnes denies. Deal also took a shot at Barnes notorious feud with teachers saying he would “not insult the public educators of this state.”
Monds stuck to a message of limited government throughout the debate.
“We need to get government out of the way,” he said.
Deal, who attacked his Republican runoff rival Karen Handel throughout the GOP campaign for her support of gay groups was asked about recent reports of gay suicides.
He said bullying of any kind should not be tolerated but noted that he had not supported a hate crimes bill, which would subject attacks on gays to additional punishment.
Roy Barnes for Governor: www.roy2010.com
Nathan Deal for Governor: www.nathandeal.org
John Monds: http: 1/4 1/4votemonds.com