Savannah lawyer Wade Herring, fighting from behind to unseat four-term incumbent Buddy Carter, sought to persuade Coastal Georgia voters on Wednesday that his command of issues and ability to bridge the current divides in American politics compensated for his lack of experience in elected office.
The second of two scheduled debates between the candidates for Coastal Georgia’s seat in Congress was combative, pitting Herring against Carter, the seasoned former mayor of Pooler and ex-state legislator who now occupies the upper rungs of the Republican establishment in Washington.
As he did the previous day in a 30-minute debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, Herring portrayed Carter, a licensed pharmacist, as a stalking horse for what he termed “Big Pharma” and “Big Oil” and a self-aggrandizing product of backroom Washington politics, out of touch with the interests of his Coastal Georgia constituents.
The 63-year-old Herring hammered away at Carter’s opposition to measures in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act that cap the price of insulin and allow Medicare for the first time in its history to negotiate drug prices, while touting himself as a learner, a problem-solver, and a conciliator.
“I will reach across the aisle to get jobs to the First District, to get affordable health care, to get investment in green energy,” he said.
Carter, 65, hit back, at times sighing in exasperation, at other times with mocking laughter at what he said were falsehoods from Herring. He returned to his favorite mantra from the day before.
If elected, Herring would go to Washington and become a “rubber stamp for the failed policies of the Biden administration,” which include, Carter said, four-decade-high inflation, crime “running rampant in our cities,” plummeting educational values, an uncontrolled border, and deaths caused by fentanyl.
That, Carter said, would be “ludicrous.”
Where the race between Carter and Herring stands three weeks from Election Day — and with early voting already underway — is unclear. Opinion polling is expensive and rare in Coastal Georgia.
From the start, however, Herring has faced long odds. Even before the campaign season got underway in earnest, political operatives, analysts and pundits declared the First District a safe Republican seat. No Democrat has held the First District seat in the House of Representatives since 1992.
Still, though a political novice, Herring has demonstrated on the campaign trail a poise and grasp of issues that previous Democratic challengers to Carter have not. He did so again Wednesday as he sought to allay doubts about his qualifications for office.
In one of the sharpest exchanges in the one-hour debate hosted by Savannah’s WTOC-TV, Carter defended himself against Herring’s suggestion that he was opposed to infrastructure development in Coastal Georgia, even though he voted against legislation approving it.
“Look at the city of Pooler,” Carter retorted. “I mean, you tell me that I haven’t supported infrastructure. There you go again, man. I tell you, it’s just unbelievable.”
Replied Herring drily: “Well, it’s unbelievable to me that you would use Pooler as an example of infrastructure. There’s one rubber stamp on the stage, and it’s you voting with the Republican Party 98% of the time.”
Herring appeared to bristle only when Carter suggested he and other Democrats supported abortion up to the point of birth and “have taxpayers pay for it.”
“That statement isn’t factual. It isn’t based on the law. It isn’t based on medical science. It’s just flatly wrong,” Herring replied. “It’s meant to gin up fear and anger and division.”
To secure reelection, Carter is counting on anger over inflation, fears about crime, and his bona fides as a high-ranking Republican in Washington to rally his Republican supporters to the polls.
To overtake the heavily favored Carter at the ballot box, Herring must turn out Democrats and win over Republicans opposed to the incumbent’s position on abortion, dismayed over his continued embrace of Donald Trump and horror-struck over his actions around the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.
When the discussion Wednesday evening turned to the events of Jan. 6, the differences between the candidates were even more stark.
Herring accused Carter of violating the U.S. Constitution and his oath of office by voting along with 146 other Republicans in the wake of the siege to overturn the results of the election.
In reply, Carter described Herring as “obsessed with January 6th,” adding that when he’s at home in the district he hears only about the “failed policies of this administration,” including inflation and crime.
“Yes, people in Savannah are concerned and they should be. There’s crime in our streets again. I’m hearing about the southern border. I’m hearing about fentanyl.”