By Greg Bluestein
The Associated Press
SAVANNAH, Ga. —; The two candidates competing to become Georgia’s first Republican lieutenant governor met face to face Thursday in a debate, but their meeting turned out to be more tepid than testy.
State Sen. Casey Cagle spent much of the debate reminding the crowd of newspaper publishers and executives of his experience as a state senator, which he said is crucial to lead the state Senate.
“You’re looking at an individual who understands state government and can move the state forward in a positive way,” he said.
Political organizer Ralph Reed offered his plans to improve high school graduation rates and rein in state spending.
“I’ll be a mainstream leader that will embrace and lead every one of our citizens,” said Reed, the former Christian Coalition leader.
The candidates highlighted their respective plans to better control state spending.
Reed backs legislation to limit state spending and return surpluses to Georgia taxpayers.
“I believe in putting state government on the diet it should have been put on for decades,” said Reed, who supports eliminating the income tax for seniors and restricting annual home assessment increases.
Cagle, who said he’s never voted for a tax increase, said limiting state spending should be more of a focus in the race.
“In the political season, you hear a lot of individuals calling for tax cuts. But unfortunately, there’s no one else in this race that understands the budget like myself,” he said. “Georgia does not have a revenue problem. Georgia has a spending problem.”
The Democratic contenders, including former Department of Human Resources Commissioner Jim Martin, state Sen. Steen Miles, former state Sen. Greg Hecht and businessman Griffin Lotson, are collecting endorsements from lawmakers to try to rally voters.
At their debate Thursday, the Democratic candidates railed against Republican education initiatives. Hecht and Martin each claimed to be the only Democrat who can defeat Reed in November.
The Democrats have had a firm grip on the lieutenantgovernor’s seat since it was created in 1945. Yet the victor in the Republican primary likely will have an edge in the November election, thanks to Georgia’s recent tilt toward the GOP, analysts say.
Reed, a former Bush strategist who chaired the state Republican Party in 2002 when it gained control of the state Senate and governor’s office, was the early front-runner in his first venture as a candidate. Yet Cagle has gained ground in polls and fund raising as Reed has been dogged by ties to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in January.
Both candidates say they’ve raised more than $2 million in the campaign and have earned national endorsements.
Reed has the backing of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller —; a conservative Democrat who has made a recent practice of endorsing Republicans.
Last week, Cagle picked up the support of former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes.