Warnock and Walker agree to at least one debate in marquee Senate race in Georgia
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, have agreed to at least one debate in their marquee fall contest after weeks of sparring over televised debates.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Warnock’s campaign confirmed that the senator had accepted an invitation to debate Walker in Savannah on October 14, an event sponsored by local TV news network Nexstar.
“Someone had to put an end to Herschel Walker’s games, and today Reverend Warnock showed again why he is the best person for the job, agreeing to Walker’s preferred debate so Georgians would have at least one opportunity to see the clear choice they have in this election,” said Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager.
Walker spokesman Will Kiley confirmed to CNN that the former NFL star, a political novice who did not debate his primary opponents before easily winning the GOP nomination in May, will participate in the Savannah debate.
The agreement comes amid an ongoing debate about debates across the country, with some candidates at odds over when — or even whether — they should meet onstage.
Among the key races in which debates have become a point of contention is the contest for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. Republican nominee Mehmet Oz’s campaign had been goading the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, into agreeing to a debate. Oz suggested that Fetterman was exploiting his recovery from a stroke earlier this year to avoid debating. The Pennsylvania Democrat has since said that he will debate Oz, though nothing has been concretely planned.
In North Carolina’s open Senate race, the campaigns of Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd remain in talks about when to hold a televised debate. And in Ohio, home to another open-seat Senate contest, tense negotiations between the campaigns of Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance remain unresolved. Similar stalemates exist in Senate and gubernatorial races across the country.
In Georgia, the fight over debates was long and winding. Walker had proposed the debate after refusing to commit to three separate televised debate invitations, including a different debate in Savannah that Warnock had already accepted.
Over the past two months, the two campaigns have argued in public over the debate schedule, with the Warnock campaign targeting Walker in a TV ad for “dodging” debates in Atlanta, Macon and Savannah. Walker, who had frequently said he would debate Warnock “any time, any place,” finally announced last month that he had accepted an invitation to the second Savannah debate and pressed Warnock to accept this event.
Last week, Warnock tweeted that he would participate in the October 14 Savannah debate — under the condition that Walker agree to one of the other previously announced debates, in either Macon or Atlanta, and that the debate hosts do not reveal the topics beforehand. But after Walker declined to engage publicly with his opponent’s terms, Warnock, who is seeking a full six-year term after winning a special election runoff last year, appears to have accepted the Republican’s preferred debate.
There has been a real concern among some Republicans in Georgia — many of whom have expressed concern over Walker’s liabilities as a candidate — that a public debate format would not serve their nominee well.
“I think Walker is more likely to win by not debating,” Erick Erickson, a conservative talk radio host based in Georgia, told CNN earlier this year. “God help him against Warnock onstage.”
For months, Walker has had to contend with a litany of revelations on everything from false claims about working in law enforcement and his academic record to questionable business ties — issues that would undoubtedly come up at a debate.
The Georgia Senate race is among the highest-profile races of the 2022 midterms, and the state remains sharply divided. Democrats such as Warnock and President Joe Biden scored statewide wins last cycle after years of GOP dominance, but the governor’s mansion and state legislature are still controlled by Republicans. A Fox News poll of registered voters from July found Warnock with 46% support to Walker’s 42%, while the same survey showed Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp up 47% to 44% over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.
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