Georgia Senate election: Warnock and Walker agree to at least one debate


Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker have agreed to at least one debate in their fall contest after weeks of televised debates.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Warnock’s campaign confirmed the senator had accepted an invitation to debate Walker Savannah on Oct. 14, an event sponsored by local television station Nexstar.

“Someone had to put an end to Herschel Walker’s games, and today the Reverend Warnock showed again why he is the best man for the job by accepting Walker’s preferred debate so that Georgians have at least one chance to see the clear opportunity they have in this. election,” said Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager.

A spokesman for Walker, Will Kiley, confirmed to CNN that the former NFL star, a political novice who had not debated his primary opponent before handily winning the GOP nomination in May, will participate in the Savannah debate.

The deal comes amid ongoing debate about debates across the country, with some candidates debating when or even if they should meet on stage.

Among the races where the controversy has become a point of contention is the race for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania. Republican candidate Mehmet Oz’s campaign was pushing the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, to agree to a debate. Oz suggested that Fetterman was exploiting his recovery from a stroke earlier this year to avoid controversy. The Pennsylvania Democrat has since said he will debate Oz, though nothing concrete has been planned.

In North Carolina’s open Senate race, the campaigns of Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd continue to debate when to hold a televised debate. And in Ohio, home to another open Senate seat contest, tense negotiations between the campaigns of Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican JD Vance remain unresolved. There are similar deadlocks in statewide Senate and gubernatorial races.

In Georgia, the battle over the disputes was long and tortuous. Walker proposed the debate after declining invitations to three televised debates, including another one in Savannah that Warnock had already accepted.

Over the past two months, the two campaigns have sparred publicly over the debate schedule, with the Warnock campaign targeting Walker in a TV ad to “avoid” debates in Atlanta, Macon and Savannah. Walker, who has often said he would debate Warnock “anytime, anywhere,” announced last month that he had accepted an invitation to a second debate in Savannah and urged Warnock to accept the event.

Last week, Warnock he tweeted that he would participate in the Oct. 14 Savannah debate, on the condition that Walker agree to one of the other previously announced debates, in Macon or Atlanta, and that the debaters not reveal the issues in advance. But after Walker refused to publicly engage with his opponent’s terms, Warnock, who is seeking a six-year term after winning a special election last year, appears to have accepted the Republican’s preferred debate.

There has been real concern among some Georgia Republicans – many of whom have expressed concern about Walker’s responsibilities as a candidate – that a public debate format will not serve the candidate well.

“I think Walker has a better chance of winning uncontested,” Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host based in Georgia, told CNN earlier this year. “God help him against Warnock on stage.”

For months, Walker has faced a litany of revelations ranging from false claims about working in law enforcement to his academic records to questionable business connections, topics that would certainly come up in a debate.

Georgia’s Senate race is one of the high-profile 2022 midterm races, and the state remains deeply divided. Democrats like Warnock and President Joe Biden scored statewide victories last cycle after being dominated by the GOP, but Republicans still control the governor’s mansion and the state legislature. A Fox News poll of registered voters in July showed Warnock with 46 percent support to Walker’s 42 percent, and in the same poll, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp rose from 47 percent to 44 percent over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.