Attorney General Thurbert Baker, former Gov. Roy Barnes, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, former Georgia National Guard Commander David Poythress and Ray City Mayor Carl Camon squared off at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Barnes took a swipe at a Republican front-runner in the race - state insurance commissioner John Oxendine - arguing that when it comes to insurance industry regulation, the state has had a "more of a fox watching the hen house here than there has been an aggressive enforcement of the laws."
Porter argued that the state needs a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to ethics and said he's a co-sponsor of legislation that would bar legislators who don't pay their taxes from holding office.
"Republicans weren't willing to stand up to their own people when they saw what was going on and knew it was wrong," the Dublin newspaper publisher said.
Baker touted his work pushing for open government, saying it has been a cornerstone of his career.
"I am no 'Johnny come lately' to this issue," he said.
Poythress, of Macon, made the most dramatic gesture of the evening. Answering a question on job creation, the former secretary of state brandished a pledge and said he would not take a salary as governor until the state's unemployment rate - now at 10.3 percent - fell back below 7 percent.
Camon, a teacher, said he would bring his small town sensibility to the Capitol.
"You can't run behind a skyscraper in Ray City and hide from citizens," the five-term mayor said. "You have to meet them head on. You see them at the post office. You see them at the churches."
The Democrats rallied behind education, assailing a state plan to have teachers take three more unpaid furlough days. Georgia has had to slash another $1.2 billion from the state budget for the current fiscal year.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has cut education by 3 percent, far less than the 8 to 9 percent other state agencies are facing. Still, the candidates said they could find additional revenue elsewhere to protect the classroom.
Poythress decried special interest tax breaks which he said "lie in there like moles and continually, gradually suck away revenue from the state."
Porter has said he wants to change the way sales tax is collected and bring in additional funds.
Barnes came closest to taking on his fellow Democrats calling his opponents "good folks" who nonetheless lack the experience to get the job done in tough economic times. Barnes argued he does.
"I have the battle scars on my back to prove it," Barnes said.
Seven Republicans are also running to replace Perdue who is prevented by term limits from running away. Party primaries will be in July.