By KATHLEEN FOODY Associated Press
ATLANTA — The candidates for Georgia governor came to their third and final debate ready to attack, ramping up their accusations on education, taxes and the economy.
A little more than a week before Election Day, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal called his Democratic opponent Jason Carter an extreme liberal. Carter, a state senator, suggested Deal was out of touch with the state’s schools and economy.
Carter, Deal and Libertarian Andrew Hunt met for their tensest debate of the campaign Sunday night at WSB-TV’s Atlanta studio.
Recent polls suggest a tight race, and Hunt could draw enough votes to force a runoff. In Georgia, one candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to prevent a December vote.
The economy and education again took center stage, and the candidates’ attacks continued to get tougher and more personal.
Carter said Deal ignores the pain of people looking for jobs by insisting that the unemployment rate doesn’t square with other measures of the state’s economy. He also faulted Deal for touting an increase to education funding — about $314 million in new aid — in this year’s state budget and a new program helping technical college students get loans for tuition as major improvement.
“If you believe that it is getting easier for people to go to technical college then you’re not out there in the state living the life that people are living,” Carter said. “We know it’s getting harder.”
Deal continued to hammer Carter for voting against that budget despite the boost in money for schools. Carter has said he couldn’t approve that budget without full education funding after a tour of schools in the state.
Deal said other lawmakers including Democrats were able to vote ‘yes.’
“All but five including Sen. Carter in the state Senate voted for this budget,” Deal said. “His votes do not even represent mainstream Democrats in this state. He is on the extreme liberal edge within his own party as it comes to spending your tax dollars.”
Carter said Deal was mischaracterizing his record and promised that “if tax increases were off the table,” lawmakers can find ways to increase education funding.
Deal criticized Carter throughout the debate for not proposing amendments or bills addressing the issues raised during the campaign and urged voters to stay the course
“Tonight we’ve heard Sen. Carter continue to say ‘I believe,'” Deal said. “I too believe, but I have translated my beliefs into action.”
Carter said Deal’s campaign is made up of excuses and told voters to look at their own lives while deciding who to support.
“Look at his record,” Carter said. “See how it feels in your family. The bottom line is Georgia is not where it needs to be.”
Hunt, the former CEO of a nanotechnology firm, focused his comments on eliminating Common Core — a set of standards for English and math that many conservative voters oppose — and improving the economy by eliminating taxes for companies that create well-paying jobs.
“A vote for Hunt means that you’re going to have fairness and freedom and not cronyism,” he said.
Election Day is Nov. 4.
Kathleen Foody can be followed at http://twitter.com/katiefoody