US Senate rivals Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock debate in Georgia

WASHINGTON, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Republican Herschel Walker’s bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia came to a head on Friday when the two rivals met for their only televised debate in a contentious race that could help determine which party controls the Senate.

The battle between Walker, a football star and political novice backed by former President Donald Trump, and Warnock, a pastor of a historic Atlanta church who served less than two years in the Senate, is one of the contests most most watched of the legislative elections of November 8.

The race was rocked by media reports that Walker, who has spoken out against abortion without exception, paid for an abortion in 2009 to terminate the pregnancy of a woman he was dating and who later gave birth to one of his children. Walker called the allegation “shameless lie.” Reuters has not independently confirmed the claim.

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But it was unclear what role the issue would play as Walker and Warnock took to their respective podiums in Savannah. Opinion polls show the race as a draw.

Republicans sought to shift voters’ attention away from questions about Walker’s character and the need to take control of the Senate, focusing on issues such as inflation, crime and border security.

President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats hold slim majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. Senate control could be decided by the outcome of races in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Georgia was a reliable Republican state, with two Republican senators, until Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff then claimed the state’s two Senate seats in the 2020 presidential election. January 2021 elections.

Two prominent Senate Republicans — Rick Scott and Tom Cotton — campaigned with Walker this week, delivering a message that Republicans must secure a majority in the House to stop Biden’s legislative agenda.

Scott also joined Walker in Savannah on Friday for a debate that could prove crucial in the campaign.

“There are not many people who are undecided in the race,” added Republican strategist Charlie Black. “But those who are undecided are looking for something to reassure them of his abilities. If Herschel is doing well, it will help him.”

Walker is known for making confusing statements on political issues such as climate change. He tried to lower expectations in an interview with the Savannah Morning News last month, saying, “I’m a country boy. I’m not that smart. He’s a preacher.”

Warnock is an eloquent speaker who is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King once preached.

The Democrat is expected to stress his independence from Biden. Ahead of the debate, his campaign released a memo that stressed his willingness to work with conservative Senate Republicans, including Ted Cruz, and his willingness to stand up to the Biden administration to protect jobs at a training center in Georgia fight.

If no candidate obtains more than 50% of the vote on November 8, the race would be decided in a second round on December 6.

An opinion poll conducted by the University of Georgia showed Warnock leading Walker 46% to 43% among likely voters.

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Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Diane Craft

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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