ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal questioned Democrat Jason Carter's leadership and faulted his legislative record, while Carter attacked the incumbent over a high unemployment rate and accused him of an ethics scandal.
The sharpest exchange during the televised debate Sunday came after Deal was asked about a recent Carter ad focused on the governor's personal financial turnaround. Deal reported a $2.3 million loan in 2010 and a net worth of $3.9 million this spring. Deal credited the turnaround to the $2 million sale of a salvage yard he owned to a firm called Copart, which owes the state about $74 million in sales taxes.
Recent polls have showed a very close race between Deal, a 72-year-old former state senator and congressman, and Carter, a state senator and the 39-year-old grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.
Carter has accused the governor of getting rich while the state's middle class fell behind. Deal called the attack a typical "liberal" view of private enterprise.
"They have disdain for people like me and my partner some 25 years ago, invested by borrowing against our assets to make a business start," Deal said. "We worked with that business for over two decades meeting weekly payroll, something that Sen. Carter has never done."
Deal said he put his assets in a blind trust after being elected and then repeated his call for a court to determine what the company owes to the state.
"He was run out of Congress to avoid an ethics scandal," Carter shot back. "It is a pattern. It is a practice."
A House ethics investigation found that as a congressman, Deal urged state officials to preserve a state program that did business with the salvage yard he owned. Deal resigned from Congress before the committee issued a final report saying Deal "may have" violated rules and standards of conduct.
Deal questioned why state and local Democrats in DeKalb County haven't given Carter a leadership post and faulted the two-term senator for not authoring bills or budget amendments.
"His colleagues who know him best have never given him a position of leadership ... he has been on bills, but he has never been the primary author of a single piece of legislation that has ever passed," Deal said.
Carter attempted to respond before being cut off by the debate moderator. Earlier, he said Deal's attack was an attempt to "pass the buck."
"This state has languished long enough with no vision," Carter said.
The state's preparation — and Deal's credibility — for the Ebola virus' occurrence in the U.S. was at the center of another charged exchange. Deal has been criticized for suggesting that the virus can be killed by water. After being attacked by the other candidates, Deal said the state's health officer misinformed him.
Hunt, the former CEO of a nanotechnology company, said he offers a contrast to the two politicians with legal backgrounds, and pledged to cut the state's unemployment rate to 5 percent by eliminating employment penalty taxes.
Election Day is Nov. 4.