The outdoor discussion and luncheon was hosted by the Cobb County Republican Women's Club.
Former state Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah said the key was electing a Republican in the July primary who could beat the Democratic contender in November.
"It ain't going to be Thurbert Baker. It's going to be Roy Barnes. And I'm the one that has taken him on. That guy can charm the skin off a snake. And there are people out there that still remember fondly the Roy Barnes administration. I tell them they're remembering the late '90s. They're not remembering that top down-bureaucratic, Barack Obama-style that Roy Barnes had," Johnson said.
Johnson went to on relate how he was minority leader during Barnes' term as governor.
"We toppled the Barnes administration and elected the first Republican conservative majority in this state ever. Now 130 years ago there was a Republican majority but that was at the point of a gun so this was the first freely elected Republican majority in this state," he said.
Character was another subject raised in the panel discussion.
In an apparent dig at other candidates whose questionable ethical engagements have been duly noted by the media, state Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton) said he's welcomed the press to look into his history and any ethical issues surrounding his actions.
"We're yet to get that story. I've been looking for the front page on Austin Scott and unfortunately if you're ethical I don't think you get that," Scott said.
Former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville has been receiving media attention, which he took issue with.
"Want to know who can beat Roy Barnes? Look at the front page of the (Atlanta newspaper) and see who they think has got the most chance of beating Roy Barnes. Yeah, I've been on the front page of the (Atlanta newspaper). I'll tell you why. Because they know I'm the one who's most likely to beat him and they'd like to tarnish my reputation at every chance that they can do so. You know when you got folks like George Soros and crew after you, you must be doing something right," Deal said.
State Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) said it's great to spout Republican principles, but useless if you're not going to follow them.
"It's the character of the governor I think that matters," Chapman said.
"You know, when a large utility company can walk into the state capitol and bypass the Public Service Commission and put million dollars of rate increases on Georgia, we're clearly in trouble. When someone can walk in, a private interest, and buy the oceanfront for a penny on the dollar like Jekyll Island state park, a 25 year exclusive rights contract and such favors as that, we've truly got an issue in Georgia. The establishment politics that exists today can no longer exist. And the Tea Party people are saying so. The principles of the Republican Party are good. I love them. But the most important thing is you've got to uphold them," Chapman said.
Education was another hot-button issue raised.
Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who lives in Gwinnett County, said Georgia has been doing the same thing in education year after year.
"When Alabama has an average SAT score that's higher than that of Georgia, that's not a Chamber of Commerce moment," Oxendine said.
Oxendine said the state shouldn't be funding school buildings, but funding students.
"Take the money and let it follow the child. Let's fund individual children and give them the best education possible. At that point the school becomes irrelevant, but we will be educating our children and we will take Georgia where it can go," Oxendine said.
The state budget - which has plummeted from $21 billion to $15 - brought talk of where to make cuts.
Johnson said 55 percent of the state budget is devoted to education, with 45 percent of that devoted to K-12 education.
"The money is in the administration, it's in the bureaucracy," Johnson said. "We've got bureaucrats in Washington telling bureaucrats in Atlanta what to tell bureaucrats in Cobb County what to tell the teachers to teach. We ought to be putting 90 percent into the classroom, into the teachers, into the schools, and eliminate all that other stuff that's out there."
The candidates also talked about their ideas for creating jobs. Former Secretary of State Karen Handel said that means not just targeting large companies, but keeping an eye on small businesses. Handel said 90 percent of Georgia companies have 50 or fewer employees.
"We've got to reignite the entrepreneurial spirit in this state and have tax credits for angel investments as well as for venture capital. And I realize the Legislature put that in the bill, but ladies and gentlemen, it's tied to the size of our cash reserves and we need those tax credits now, not when the state recovers," Handel said.
Scott said he wanted to abolish the corporate income tax to bring jobs to Georgia.
"It's pretty simple: get rid of the corporate income tax. It's only three percent of the state's total budget. Stop charging a sales tax on the energy used in manufacturing. Get the manufacturing jobs in the state," he said.
Looking about at the gaggle of candidates, Handel said the next governor should not be a career politician.
"Most of the individuals up here - they've been in politics a long time. They have had their opportunity to do all the things that they have talked about today and they haven't," she said.