Savannah – Senate hopefuls Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker squared off Friday night in their first and only scheduled debate before the election, touching on a wide range of topics crucial to voters in the state.
Both candidates pledged in their opening statements to be strong advocates for Georgia in Washington. Warnock said he grew up in public housing down the street from where the debate was being held, telling viewers that “only in America is my story possible”.
The candidates discussed many issues crucial to the state, including the economy, election integrity and abortion. Throughout the debate, Walker repeatedly tried to link Warnock to President Biden, telling voters that Warnock voted with the president 96% of the time.
Warnock declined to say whether he would support Mr Biden if he ran for office again in 2024, telling voters: ‘I haven’t thought for a minute about who should run.’
Walker, on the other hand, said he would fully support former President Donald Trump if he ran again, saying Trump was his “friend” and “I will not leave my allies.” Both candidates, however, acknowledged that Mr Biden had won the 2020 election and both pledged to respect the results of the Georgian race.
In another notable moment later in the debate, Warnock criticized Walker for having “a problem with the truth” and referenced reports that he had previously claimed to be a member of law enforcement. Walker then appeared to show some sort of badge, saying he had worked “with many police officers”, prompting a moderator to chastise him for bringing what she called a “prop”.
“It’s not a prop, it’s real,” Walker replied.
Abortion has drawn attention to the race in recent days, due to a recent report by The Daily Beast that Walker, an opponent of abortion access, paid for the abortion of a woman. The outlet later reported that the woman was the mother of one of Walker’s children. Walker has repeatedly denied the allegation. CBS News did not confirm the Daily Beast reports.
Walker said Friday evening once again that the allegation was a “lie”, telling voters that “I am a Christian, I believe in life”.
And as he did in an interview with ABC News earlier this week, Walker continued to soften his previous stance on abortion, though he denied on Friday that was the case. He said during the debate that he supports Georgia’s “heartbeat” bill, which is the abortion law of 2019 that came into effect after Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, ending the federal right to abortion.
“I say I support the heartbeat bill,” Walker said Friday. “And I say I support Georgia’s heartbeat bill because it’s Governor Kemp’s people’s bill. And I said there were exceptions. I said that I’m a Christian, but I also represent the people of Georgia, and that’s who I represent. So what the people of Georgia stand for, I’m going to support them.”
Georgia law allows exceptions for rape and incest if a police report is filed. There is also an exception if the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus becomes non-viable.
Earlier this year, however, Walker filled out a candidate survey for an anti-abortion group, the Georgia Life Alliance, in which he indicated he supported an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother.
“There are no exceptions in my mind,” Walker told reporters in May at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon, Georgia, adding, “As I say, I believe in life. in life.”
Ahead of the debate, supporters of each candidate who spoke to CBS News said they planned to tune in.
In Walker’s hometown of Wrightsville, where a brand new football field named after him sits near downtown, some local residents said they can’t wait to see the University of Georgia football great step up. on the scene.
“I plan to watch whatever comes my way because I like to be well-informed on both sides,” said Robert Colson, a Walker supporter. “If I can find the truth about a candidate, that will impress me.”
Not far from Raphael Warnock Way in Savannah, Tammie Jenkins, who went to high school with Warnock, said she hoped the debate would stay focused on the issues.
“He was always smart,” Jenkins said of Warnock. She supported him in 2020 but keeps an open mind. “I want to know and see everyone’s opinions.”
Many voters CBS News spoke to were with Jenkins — they wanted to hear about issues that matter to them, like the economy.
“All the backlash and whatever doesn’t matter mostly comes down to what you’re going to do if you get into the Senate,” said Jennifer Jordan, who worries about the economy and rising taxes. gasoline and food prices.
Most polls have the pair virtually tied, and the CBS News Battleground Tracking has Georgia as a “throw away” state, with just 25 days until Election Day. Republicans around the country are keeping their eyes on the Peach State as they try to regain control of the Senate, currently split 50-50, but under Democratic control because Vice President Kamala Harris breaks any tie.
Early voting begins Monday. Traditionally, Democrats do better in early votes, so high turnout could be an indicator in favor of Warnock, while lower turnout could be positive for Walker.