Five takeaways from the Georgia Senate debate
ATLANTA — Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker faced off Friday night in Savannah for their widely anticipated debate, tackling inflation, abortion, drugs, fake police officers, and more.
The high-stakes matchup between the seasoned orator who delivered sermons on Sunday from the pulpit of the famed Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Georgia football legend could determine which party takes control of the Senate next year.
Walker flatly denied bombshell allegations that he paid a former girlfriend to get an abortion, calling it “a lie.” The mother of one of Walker’s children has told multiple news organizations that the Heisman Trophy winner told her to get an abortion in 2009 and then sent her a follow-up get-well card. Walker pushed back and said, “I’m a Christian. I believe in life.”
WALKER EMPHATICALLY DENIES PAYING FOR ABORTION IN DEBATE WITH WARNOCK
Walker had set low expectations for himself going into Friday’s debate telling reporters he’s just “a country boy” and “not that smart.” He also claimed Warnock was going to show up and “embarrass” him.
Walker tried to link Warnock, Georgia’s junior senator, to President Joe Biden’s economic policies and blamed Warnock for inflation. At times, Walker seemed to go off script, especially during a peculiar exchange where he flashed what looked like an honorary deputy badge. The moderator stepped in and chided Walker for bringing a prop to the debate.
“It’s not a prop. It’s real. He said I … never was in law enforcement,” Walker said before being cut off by the moderator.
During his closing statement, Walker told viewers that the country was “hurting” and needed leaders.
Warnock, who won his seat two years ago in a special election, is hoping to secure a full six-year term in November. He has had his own share of challenges to overcome, including a divorce and messy custody battle, as well as claims he is soft on crime and that he will rubber-stamp all of Biden’s policies.
Supporters for both candidates lined the streets outside the JW Marriott Hotel where the debate was taking place. There were also watch parties across the state including Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Thomasville, and Savannah.
Here are the five takeaways from Friday’s debate:
Walker outright denied he paid for a former girlfriend to have an abortion.
“I said that was a lie, and I’m not backing down,” he said. “And I tell people this: Georgia is a state that respects life. And I’ll be a senator that protects life.”
The former NFL star has been hit with a wave of negative headlines over the past two weeks stemming from a Daily Beast article that claimed Walker, who at times has run on a strict no-abortion agenda, paid for a woman to end her pregnancy and then sent her a get-well card as a follow-up.
The New York Times also reported that Walker allegedly asked that same woman to get a second abortion. The news outlet reported it had spoken to Republicans close to Walker’s campaign who said they had anticipated the abortion allegations to come out and urged his handlers to be prepared.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this year turned abortion into an election-defining subject. In Georgia, banning abortions after six weeks has become law. Warnock has referred to himself as a “pro-choice pastor.” Walker has used Warnock’s position on abortion to attack him.
The debate moderator also asked Warnock what limits he would support on abortion. Warnock did not give a limit, saying the decision should be between a woman and her doctor.
He added that he trusted “women more than I trust politicians.”
Walker repeatedly blamed Biden and Warnock for inflation and told viewers that no one would be able to buy groceries or gas if Democrats stayed in power. He also claimed that the U.S. should return to being “energy independent” rather than depending on our “enemies.”
When it was his turn, Warnock noted that Walker said he would have voted against the Inflation Reduction Act that would cap the cost of insulin.
“You know, I believe in reducing insulin, but at the same time, you got to eat right … so you have to get food prices down, and you got to get gas down so they can go get insulin,” Walker responded.
“I meet people all the time in my church who are trying to manage their diabetes,” Warnock said. “I’ve been there when they’ve gotten the news that they’ve got to get an amputation. And I think we’re hearing from my opponent tonight that it’s their fault that the prices of insulin are being gouged. I don’t think it’s their fault. I think it’s the fault of these pharmaceutical companies.”
While Warnock sidestepped a question about whether Biden should run for a second term in 2024, Walker went all-in on another White House bid for his friend, former President Donald Trump. When asked if Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Walker said yes. Both candidates said they would accept the outcome of their Senate race. Trump has repeatedly claimed, without proof, that he won the election.
Props, police officers, and drugs
Walker falsely claimed that 70% of illegal drugs that come across the border into the United States end up in Atlanta. It’s a bold assertion that seemed to come out of thin air. Warnock pounced and alluded to Walker having a complicated relationship with the truth. When Walker tried to accuse Warnock of being anti-police, Warnock brought up claims Walker has made about working with law enforcement.
“One thing I have not done: I’ve never pretended to be a police officer, and I’ve never threatened a shootout,” Warnock said.
According to a police report from July 2011, Walker’s girlfriend claimed he threatened to “blow her head off” during a violent argument. A decade earlier, Walker’s therapist told police that the ex-NFL star was “volatile,” carried a gun, and “talked about having a shootout with police.”
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Walker at one point pulled out what appeared to be a police badge, which drew a reprimand from the moderator.
Does any of it matter?
While the debate between Walker and Warnock was heavy on policy and provided some fireworks, it’s unlikely their performances will move the needle come Election Day. The GOP has supported Walker despite missteps the political newcomer has made just as the Democrats have supported Warnock. While Walker backtracked on some of the statements he has made on the campaign trail, specifically on abortion and election integrity, Friday night, it’s unlikely that either candidate swayed enough voters to pull significantly ahead of the other.