Warnock, Walker set on 1 debate in Georgia Senate race

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FILE - Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker campaigns Sept. 7, 2021, in Emerson, Ga. Georgia voters will see at least one fall debate between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Warnock on Tuesday evening accepted Walker's proposal for an Oct. 14 debate in Savannah. (AP Photos/Bill Barrow, File)

ATLANTA – Georgia voters will see at least one fall debate between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

Warnock on Tuesday evening accepted Walker’s proposal for an Oct. 14 debate in Savannah, but the senator renewed his call for an additional debate in either Macon or Atlanta. Walker has yet to accept a second matchup and did not directly respond to the senator’s latest pitch.

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The announcement continues weeks of jockeying between the two men, who are deadlocked in one of the nation’s marquee Senate contests that will help settle control of the chamber that is now divided 50-50 between the two parties.

Warnock’s decision is a concession to Walker after the challenger refused to accept any of three traditional Georgia debates that the incumbent senator had committed to attend months ago. Walker instead countered with a fourth option.

That Oct. 14 debate will be hosted by WSAV-TV, owned by Nexstar Media Group. It will be shown on Nexstar and other stations across Georgia. Nexstar has promised a live audience.

Warnock last week had said he’d agree to Walker’s preferred Savannah debate only if the Republican committed to a second debate and also agreed not to receive questions or topics ahead of time for the Savannah matchup. WSAV-TV had originally said candidates would get topics in advance. Walker, a first-time candidate, accepted that condition, and his aides insisted the debate hosts had proposed such an arrangement.

Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager, said the senator “remains hopeful Herschel Walker will do right by Georgians, get on a debate stage at least one other time.”

Walker answered with a statement saying he was “glad to see that Raphael Warnock has agreed to face the voters,” a framing that overlooks the fact that Walker had been the original holdout on debates generally.

Warnock capitalized on Walker’s initial reluctance earlier this summer. The Democrat used paid advertising to suggest Walker, a former college and professional football star, was afraid of the debate stage.

In recent weeks, Walker has taken the offensive. “If you see him, tell him to put his big man pants on” and agree to a debate, Walker said at a recent campaign stop, to the delight of his supporters.

Walker added that Warnock should be eager to “embarrass me,” a sarcastic nod to the negative attention he’s received after flubbing some policy matters as he campaigns.

Georgia’s Senate race is one of the most closely watched in the country as Republicans try to wrest back control of Congress. Concurrent 2021 runoff victories by Warnock and Jon Ossoff gave Democrats control of the Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, but Warnock has to run again this November to win a full six-year term.

In the Republican primary, Walker refused to participate in debates with GOP rivals as he cruised to victory. But Walker also repeatedly proclaimed his eagerness to face off with Warnock in the fall.

Any debate could force the two to face questions they’ve either avoided or largely deflected during the campaign.

For Warnock, that means being pressed anew on his relationship with President Joe Biden and an administration that remains broadly unpopular in Georgia less than two years after Biden narrowly won the state. Walker has hammered Warnock as a White House lackey and said the contest is about who best represents Georgia.

For Walker, it means facing a range of policy questions and broader inquiries about his fitness for high office. Warnock has hit Walker as unqualified and framed the race as being about “who’s ready to represent Georgia."

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