When Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker met for a debate in the already contentious Georgia Senate race, all focus was on how the personal allegations against Walker would lead to the first (and likely only) debate of the campaign
Allegations that Walker paid for a woman to terminate her pregnancy and then, two years later, encouraged the same woman to have the procedure a second time, however, were just a blip in the hour-long contest , which focused on Warnock’s ties. to President Joe Biden, the two candidates’ stark differences on abortion and even, albeit briefly, Walker’s use of what appeared to be a sheriff’s badge.
Walker continued to deny the allegations against him, calling them “lies”, and Warnock, as he has done during the campaign, did not engage in controversy, choosing instead to question his Republican opponent’s relationship with the truth .
“We will see time and time again, as we have already seen, that my opponent has a problem with the truth,” Warnock said. “And just because he says something doesn’t mean it’s true.”
For Walker, the debate was as much about promoting his own candidacy as it was about tying Warnock to Biden, who was invoked early and often. His last-minute effort to reassure on-the-fence voters about his willingness to serve also included a jab at Warnock and Biden.
“For those of you who are worried about voting for me, a non-politician, I want you to think about the damage that politicians like Joe Biden and Raphael Warnock have done to this country,” Walker said.
Here are five takeaways from Friday’s debate:
Biden was not on stage Friday night, but Walker repeatedly tried to convince viewers that the Democratic president was ostensibly there with his Democratic opponent.
From the start of the event, Walker repeatedly invoked Biden, hoping to tie his Democratic opponent to the president’s low approval ratings.
“This race is not about me. It’s about what Raphael Warnock and Joe Biden have done to you and your family,” Walker said at the top of the debate.
Later, when pressed about voter fraud in the 2020 election, he added: “Did President Biden win? President Biden won and Senator Warnock won. That’s why I decided to run.”
He then summed up his point: “I’m running because he and Joe Biden are the same.”
Warnock did little to distance himself from Biden, even at times touting legislation he passed with the president’s help. But during a question about foreign policy, he took the opportunity to point to a specific moment when he confronted the Biden administration.
“I’m glad we’re standing up to Putin’s aggression and we have to continue to stand up, which is why I stood up to the Biden administration when it suggested we close the Savanah Combat Readiness Training Center,” he said. Warnock. “I told the president that this was exactly the wrong thing to do at the exact wrong time. … We kept this training center open.”
Walker returned to his message in response: “He didn’t get up. He had been lying down every time he came.”
“It’s clear,” said a somewhat exasperated Warnock, “that he has a point that he tried to make over and over again.”
Heading into the debate, the focus was on how Walker – and probably less predictably, Warnock – would address allegations that the Republican candidate allegedly paid for a woman to terminate a pregnancy and then, two years later, encouraged the same woman to have the procedure a second time.
Walker did what he has done repeatedly as the allegations fueled an already contentious Senate race: Label the accusations as lies.
“Like I said, that’s a lie,” Walker said in response to a question from the moderator. “I put it in a book, something from my life, I have been very transparent. Not like the senator, he’s been hiding things.”
Walker added: “I said it’s a lie and I’m not backing down. And we have Senator Warnock, people who would do anything and say anything for that seat. But I’m not going to back down.”
CNN has not independently verified the allegations about Walker.
Warnock, as he has done in the past, did not address the allegations, choosing instead to let Walker fight them without pushing them himself.
Instead, the senator took a broad approach, focusing on Walker’s “trouble with the truth” and less on the specific allegations.
The candidates also faced off against abortion rights more generally, with Walker insisting he did not support a federal ban, in contrast to previous statements, and pointing to the restrictive “heartbeat” law of been The law prohibits abortion as soon as early heart activity is detected, which can be as early as six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.
“On abortion, I am a Christian. I believe in life. Georgia is a state that respects life,” Walker said.
Georgia law makes exceptions for cases of rape or incest, pending a timely police report, and in some cases where the health of the pregnant person is at risk.
Before the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, state law had allowed abortions up to 20 weeks.
Warnock, who supports abortion rights, repeated an argument he has made on the road: “A patient’s room is too cramped and small and cramped for a woman, her doctor and the government of USA. … I trust women more than politicians.”
Walker then fired back, invoking Warnock’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality.
“He told me black lives matter… If black lives matter, why don’t you protect these babies? And instead of aborting these babies, why don’t you baptize these babies?” Walker said.
Warnock, as he did throughout the debate, did not directly respond to Walker’s provocation. Instead, he reiterated his position.
“There are enough politicians crammed into patient rooms,” the senator said, “and I don’t plan to join them.”
Georgia is one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid and currently has about 1.5 million uninsured residents.
Walker, when asked by the moderator if the federal government should step in to make sure everyone has access to health care, began a confusing non-answer.
“Well, right now, people have health care coverage. It depends on what kind of coverage you want. Because if you have a health care job, you’re going to have health care,” he said. “But everybody else — having health care is the type of health care you will receive. And I think that’s the problem.”
Walker went on to say that Warnock wants people to be “dependent on the government”, while he wants “you to get off government healthcare and have it come with you”.
Note: Warnock, as a US senator, is on a government health care plan.
Walker also gave a puzzling response to Warnock’s attack on his opposition to federal legislation capping the price of insulin for people with diabetes.
“I believe in lowering insulin, but at the same time, you have to eat well,” Walker said. “Unless you’ve eaten well, insulin doesn’t do you any good. So you have to lower food prices and lower gas prices so they can go get insulin.”
Warnock responded by telling viewers who require the drug that Walker was, in fact, blaming them for his struggles to access it.
Warnock, regarding his promise to close the Medicaid gap, was asked how he would pay for it.
“This is not a theoretical issue for me,” he replied, invoking the story of a trauma room nurse who lost coverage when she became ill and, he said, died “because of lack of health care”.
“Georgia needs to expand Medicaid,” Warnock continued. “It is more difficult for us not to expand. What we’re doing right now is subsidizing health care in other states,” a reference to the state’s refusal to accept federal funds that residents already pay for.
The debate within the debate about Warnock’s support for the police, in which the senator noted his support for legislation supporting smaller departments, was briefly derailed when Walker removed what appeared to be a police badge.
The moderator quickly admonished Walker, reminding him that props were not allowed on stage.
“You have an accessory,” said the surprised moderator. “That is not allowed sir.”
Moments earlier, Warnock, responding to Walker’s claims that he has “called (police officers)” and caused “morale” to plummet, said his opponent “has a problem with the truth”.
Warnock hit Walker with a call to a more than two-decade-old police report in which the Republican discussed the exchange of gunfire with police and a subsequent false claim by Walker that he had previously served in the law enforcement.
“One thing I have not done is I have not pretended to be a police officer and I have never, ever threatened a shootout with the police,” he said.
Warnock also argued that his support for greater police control did not undermine his support for law enforcement.
“You can support police officers, as I have done, through the COPS program, through the investment program to protect and at the same time hold police officers accountable, like all professions,” he said.