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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Candidate for governor Stacey Abrams speaks during a visit to the Mack Gaston Community Center in Dalton, Ga. on Friday, July 29, 2022.

DALTON, Ga. — In a rally focused on improving health care in Georgia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams spoke Friday to a crowd of about 350 in Dalton, Georgia.

After introducing herself, Abrams told a story about having to rush her elderly father to an Atlanta hospital after an emergency phone call to her doctor diagnosed him with sepsis. Too many hospitals in Georgia have closed, Abrams said, and she criticized Gov. Brian Kemp for not expanding Medicaid in the Peach State.

"In Georgia, every life should be given the same opportunity," Abrams said. "And we need a governor that believes in the lives of Georgians. Instead, we have a governor who's taken it upon himself to deny health care to thousands upon thousands of Georgians. Not because we can't afford it, but because he doesn't think we deserve it."

A former state representative and tax attorney who's gained national attention as an advocate for expanding voting opportunities, Abrams was defeated by Kemp in 2018 by a narrow margin. The Republican incumbent leads Abrams by 1.4 points, according to poll aggregator RealClearPolitics, with the general election set for Nov. 8.

Along with expanding health care, Abrams focused her speech on curbing gun violence, codifying the protections of Roe vs. Wade in the state, protecting voting access and her experience working with Republicans to get things done during her decade-plus term as a state senator.

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Stacey Abrams targets health care at rally

As a former accountant and "nerd," Abrams said the state has a $5 billion dollar surplus that she thinks should go to expanding health care and ensuring that "housing is a right." As many Democrats distance themselves from President Joe Biden, Abrams emphasized her support for him and credited Biden for "pouring" money into the state and his recent climate plan win.

Abrams said that while Georgia passed a mental health care law last legislative session, it wasn't properly funded. "It's not about raising taxes," she said, "It's about raising expectations."

Several Northwest Georgia Democratic leaders introduced Abrams. The group included Marcus Flowers, the party's candidate running against Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for her seat in the U.S. Congress, and Charlie Bailey, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

READ MORE: Democratic challenger Marcus Flowers outraised Marjorie Taylor Greene in first quarter of 2022

Bailey, who has experience as a prosecutor in Atlanta, said Republicans talk a lot about public safety — but there's nearly a yearlong backlog for ballistics testing related to court cases involving gun violence. He also said that if elected, he will work to protect abortion rights for Georgians.

"If the Supreme Court is going to be derelict in its duty to protect the constitutional rights of the people of Georgia, we will not," Bailey said. "We will stand in the breach, and we will stand up for you, and we will stand up for the idea that everyone in this state is equal, including women in this state."

On the campaign trail, Abrams said all Georgians say they want the same thing: safety, justice and opportunity. Gun safety can be achieved while the Second Amendment is protected, she said. She called for background checks and red flag laws — condemning Kemp for allowing "constitutional carry," which she said makes Georgians less safe.

Gun violence is the number one killer of our children, Abrams said, and slogans are not going to change that. She also demanded accountability for law enforcement, saying that police racism is a reality — not a myth.

But more than anything, Abrams said "reproductive justice" is her focus. As of this week, she said, a doctor providing abortion services could go to prison for 10 years, and miscarriages could be investigated by the sheriff.

Kemp bills himself as a moderate, Abrams said, but in reality, he is "hard right religious extremist who has stolen the right of citizenship from the women of the state of Georgia. It's time we took it back."

In a question after her speech, physician Lemuel Arnold said expanding Medicaid wasn't enough because his patients are often denied care by profit-driven companies contracted with the government health care plan. Abrams told the physician from LaFayette that Medicaid did improve outcomes for patients, referring back to her plan to expand health care opportunities in rural areas if she's elected governor.

After the rally, Sandra Pride, a resident of Rocky Face, said Georgia needs someone to represent everyone, not just the rich people. She said she's tired of Kemp talking about a surplus when an important service like education isn't properly funded.

"Stacey's got enough experience with the legislature," Pride said. "And she grew up poor, she knows how to make a budget. I think she would do a really good job."

Contact Andrew Wilkins at awilkins@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.

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