Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican Nathan Deal launched a scathing back-and-forth over ethics, attack ads and legal fees.
Barnes began the verbal tussle, asking Deal why his campaign has spent about $80,000 on legal fees despite a congressional ethics probe which concluded when he left Congress in March.
"You've been a whole stimulus program for lawyers," Barnes said.
Deal replied that he's had to defend himself against unfounded ethics charges and accused Barnes of filling the airwaves with assaults.
"I'm tired of the fact that you only want to attack somebody rather than talk about issues that are important to the people of Georgia," Deal said.
Barnes fired back that Deal accusing him of attack ads "is like a possum telling a skunk its breath stinks."
Barnes assailed the arrangement Deal's auto salvage business had with the state - which drew a congressional ethics probe.
"If it was so bad it was in place the entire time you were governor of Georgia, why didn't you put an end to it?" Deal asked.
"You hid it so well we didn't know about it," Barnes replied.
The extended fireworks drew a rebuke from Libertarian John Monds.
"What you've seen tonight is bickering and arguing," Monds said, saying that voting for the same candidates will get the same results.
The candidates were allowed to question each other and Barnes went first asking Deal, who is counting on strong support from rural parts of the state, if he would have voted to change the flag. As governor, Barnes pushed successfully to shrink the Confederate battle emblem on the flag, a move some say helped cost him re-election to a second term,
"I saw where that got you Roy," Deal quipped. "I think that the flag that we have in the state of Georgia is a fair compromise. I probably would have voted to move in the direction our state has gone."
The candidates were then asked their thoughts on Confederate History Month.
"I think it's appropriate to have some recognition. I don't think it has to be a whole month," Barnes said, adding "the war is over."
Deal was more supportive noting that black history month is celebrated
"I think it is important for our children to understand their diverse heritage," he said.
Barnes said he would sign a bill allowing local governments to allow Sunday alcohol sales. Deal also said he supports local control but declined to say whether he would sign a Sunday alcohol bill.
The debate at the Temple in Atlanta was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.