SAVANNAH, Ga. (WRBL) — Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and challenger Herschel Walker (R) met in Savannah, Georgia Friday night for their only scheduled televised debate.
Both campaigns claimed victory on the Plant Riverside District Live stage.
“There is no question that Reverend Warnock won tonight’s debate and showed Georgians all the reasons they elected him in the first place, while Herschel Walker offered no solutions, lied, and proved once again that he isn’t ready to represent Georgians,” said Warnock for Georgia Campaign Manager Quentin Fulks.
Not so fast, said Walker senior advisor Chip Lake.
“It wasn’t even close,” Lake said in a text to WRBL. “The choice is clear. Raphael Warnock has done more for Joe Biden than he’s done for Georgia. Herschel Walker will be Georgia’s senator, not Biden’s and tonight proved it.”
Moderators Tina Tyus Shaw of WSAV in Savannah and Buck Lanford of Fox 5 in Atlanta peppered both candidates with tough questions.
Nexstar gathered political experts from its Georgia stations to discuss the crucial moments during the debate and how the candidates fared overall. The post-debate panel included Chuck Williams, a reporter at WRBL in Columbus, Tyus-Shaw and Ben Senger, both anchors at WSAV in Savannah, and Brad Means, an anchor at WJBF in Augusta. The moderator was Alicia Barnes, an anchor of Queen City News in Charlotte.
When it comes to tough topics, Walker was asked about allegations that he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2008; Warnock was asked about reports that a housing complex that is connected to Ebenezer Baptist Church where he’s senior pastor has evicted low-income residents for not paying rent.
“We knew that was coming,” Means said. “(Walker) has been telling us that tabloid stories and media reports about him when it comes to recent allegations about paying for an abortion were lies. He echoed that tonight. We knew that was going to happen.”
Warnock was asked about his pro-choice stance and the question started with a phrase that the senator has used many times on the campaign trail, “an exam room is too small for a woman, her doctor and the U.S. government.”
“We really need to pay attention to the line Herschel Walker said,” Means said. “There is a baby in that room as well. That stopped everybody in their tracks. Warnock quickly switched it to the issue of maternal mortality.”
“What I saw from these gentlemen tonight was there is a different conversation about abortion,” Tyus-Shaw said. “They played to their bases. That was very clear. Also, the women of Georgia and the women around the country were listening closely, because this is such a hot-button issue.”
Williams’ take on the abortion discussion was this: “I think it pointed to how well prepared Tina and Buck were as moderators asking the questions. Anybody who has been on the stump with Sen. Warnock knows he repeats the line constantly about an exam room being too small for a woman, her doctor and the U.S. government. By phrasing the question with that in there, you forced a little different answer because he probably would have come right out of the gate with that.”
Tyus-Shaw said it was about pushing hard.
“We had to hold these candidates accountable,” she said. “And that’s what we tried to do. We worked hard this last month to make sure we asked questions that everyone in Georgia and when it comes to abortion, women across the nation — families I should say across the nation — would listen to and hear every word these candidates had to say tonight.”
Means pointed to the sporting event nature of the debate.
“There’s a Braves game in progress. There’s a Georgia football game tomorrow,” Means said. “This right now is the center of the universe. when it comes to energy, enthusiasm, and crowd interest. It is the sporting event of the evening and perhaps this election.”
“I believe in the debate they really made it personal,” Barnes said. “They spoke about the person in Georgia who was struggling. It’s hard to be able to make ends meet. It’s hard to pay for gas. It’s hard to be able to find a job. Healthcare. Big issues that affect everybody.”
The first part of the debate was about inflation and the economy.
Williams noted that Warnock tried to turn the tables as Walker worked to tie him to the Biden policies that Republicans say are responsible for the runaway inflation.
The debate was held in front of live crowd.
“Walker wanted this debate in front of a live crowd,” Williams said. “He got what he wanted. And I think it played to his strengths to have the crowd even though he got jeered a little bit in here.”
The debate hall held about 200 spectators and each campaign got 60 tickets. The remaining were distributed by debate sponsor Nexstar.