Though they had never met in person before, there was more than a little tension when Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Lucy McBath faced off in a televised debate Tuesday afternoon. The two candidates are running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Georgia Sixth Congressional District, which includes a large portion of north metro Atlanta and East Cobb (full district map at this link).
Handel, the incumbent, and McBath agreed on some points, but found much to spar about during the half-hour session at Georgia Public Broadcasting. The full debate can be watched here or on the video embedded at the bottom of this article.
The first point of disagreement was McBath’s residency status. The former Delta flight attendant moved to Tennessee in 2016, and Handel came out swinging with accusations that McBath claimed an illegal homestead exemption in Cobb County that year while registering her vehicles in the Volunteer state.
“When do you plan to pay back the taxpayers for these fradulent exemptions, the car taxes you’ve been skipping out on, if in fact you do live in East Cobb,” said Handel, who is looking to win her second term in Congress.
McBath responded by saying she has lived in Georgia longer than Handel, that her son attended Marietta High School and that she is registered to vote in Georgia.
“I plan to vote for myself when I win on Nov. 6,” she said.
She then said she lived in Tennessee only in 2016 because she was traveling for the Democratic Party, and that she switched her residency back the next year. The two went back and forth but came to no clear resolution on the issue.
McBath first became nationally known for speaking out against gun control violence after her son was killed at a Jacksonville gas station in 2012. She has described herself as the “NRA’s worst nightmare, ” yet also said that she strongly supports the second amendment.
“I am a young woman who comes from a family of gun owners,” McBath said, noting that her father was a hunter and her oldest nephew was a sniper in the Marines. “I am not against guns.”
But McBath also said she supports “common sense solutions” such as barring gun ownership to people who are mentally disturbed, those with significant criminal histories and domestic abusers. She also said there are 96 gun deaths per day in the U.S. and that 90 percent of Americans support a background check requirement for gun ownership.
Speaking on the same topic later, Handel said that Congress recently “closed several loopholes” to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. She also has supported federal research into gun violence.
McBath then suggested that campaign contributions from the NRA are what got Handel elected to Congress, which drew a laugh from the incumbent.
“That is a ludicrous statement, Mrs. McBath,” Handel said. “I was elected to the Sixth District because the majority of the people in the district voted for me. If you recall that election last summer — oh wait, you don’t, because you weren’t here and you didn’t even vote in it.”
The candidates were also asked about the importance of representing women. Handel said she rejected the premise of the question and that it should be about representing everyone in the district.
“I have been involved in this community for nearly 25 years, not traveling all over the country giving speeches for other people,” she said.
McBath said she is a two-time breast cancer survivor who lived for years as a single mother, so she knows about issues that are important to women.
“I am not a politician and haven’t spent most of my life trying to set a career path toward becoming a politician,” she said.
They were separately asked about the #MeToo movement. McBath said that too many accusations have not been taken seriously. Handel agreed, adding the caveat that accusations should carry the same weight no matter the political party of the accused.
Lastly, the candidates were asked immigration questions, including whether or not they support sanctuary cities and a border wall.
“I do not support sanctuary cities,” Handel said. “We are a nation of laws.”
Handed said she supports “legal, sound immigration” but not “caravans of thousands of people” crossing the border.
Both candidates said they oppose separating families at the border, and McBath added that she supports law enforcement but not violating “common decency” for human beings.
On the idea of a border wall separating Mexico and the United States, McBath said she believes in strong borders but that immigration should be handled case by case rather than making an assumption that border crossers are thieves and criminals.
Handel said that she supports the border wall and doing “whatever it takes” to secure the border.
“I do not support open borders and I do not support abolishing ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” said Handel.