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Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / "I'm a Georgia Voter" stickers are shown Monday in advance of Georgia's primary elections Tuesday.

ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans traded countercharges about who's insufficiently conservative or truthful during debates Monday while staking out far-right positions on abortion and gun rights ahead of June 21 runoffs in three Georgia congressional races.

In southwest Georgia's 2nd Congressional District, frontrunner Jeremy Hunt, who won 37% of the vote in the May 25 primary, fended off charges from second-place finisher Chris West that Hunt was a carpetbagger hand-picked by outsiders to challenge longtime Democratic incumbent Sanford Bishop.

In the 6th Congressional District in Atlanta's northern suburbs, frontrunner Rich McCormick continued to attack second-place finisher Jake Evans on the grounds that a paper Evans wrote in law school shows he is insufficiently pro-police, while Evans panned McCormick as a moderate in conservative's clothing because of the Republican Main Street Partnership's endorsement of McCormick.

In the 10th District, which includes Athens and other areas east of Atlanta, frontrunner Mike Collins criticized Vernon Jones, who finished second in the May 25 primary, for his past as a Democrat in deep-blue DeKalb County. Jones alleged that Collins took federal COVID-19 relief money and then used some of it to make a loan to his campaign.

Both Evans and Jones promoted their endorsements by former President Donald Trump as the second-place finishers sought to close the gap in a short sprint to what could be low-turnout runoff elections. The 6th and 10th districts are heavily Republican and likely to elect GOP nominees.

All the debates got petty. Jones and Collins engaged in a long back-and-forth over whether Collins was Republican enough because his father, late Republican congressman Mac Collins, was once elected to the Butts County Commission as a Democrat. Jones has been a Republican for less than two years. West challenged Hunt to name what counties were the locations of three obscure towns, in an effort to paint him as an outsider. Evans contended McCormick, who is an emergency room doctor, was a secret liberal because he took a contribution from the American Medical Association, which commonly gives to physicians running for office.

The nasty tone of the debates reflect in part negligible policy differences among the candidates. In the wake of recent mass shootings, none of them voiced support for gun control measures such as universal background checks or red flag laws that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people believed to be a danger to others or themselves.

Under questioning in the debates sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, McCormick, Evans, Collins and Jones all declared that they wanted a ban on abortion that had no exceptions. McCormick called himself the "100% life doctor." He said after the debate that he could foresee no circumstances in which a viable fetus would threaten the life of the mother, saying he did not favor that as an exception. McCormick said women could abort a nonviable fetus in examples such as an ectopic pregnancy.

Under attack by Collins for voting against a Georgia bill that bans abortion after fetal heart activity can be detected, Jones continued to take the position that he voted against the bill while serving as a Democrat in the state House because it allowed some early term abortions.

"Life starts at conception, not at six weeks," Jones said.

Collins was dismissive of Jones, saying no one should trust him. "This is just obvious," Collins said. "Vernon Jones is a con man."

On guns, all six said they would refuse to take any step that limited gun ownership, with multiple candidates suggesting a good next step would be to arm and train teachers to try to prevent school shootings.

"The Democrats, it's the next thing, whatever the narrative is, to try to infringe on our Second Amendment rights," West said. "And we can't go there and I refuse to go down that pathway."

Multiple candidates also said they believed people needed to have guns to protect against, as Evans described it "the tyranny of government."

"Incrementalism is something that we have to be very suspicious of," Evans said. "Gradually eroding away our constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment, is something that I won't stand for."

 

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