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 personal allegations against Walker would kill the first — and likely only — debate of the campaign.
However, the 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, were just a blip in the hour-long contest, which was instead about Warnock’s tape. to President Joe Biden, the major differences between the two candidates on abortion and even, however briefly, Walker’s use of what appeared to be a sheriff’s badge.
Walker continued to deny the allegations against him – calling them “a lie” – and Warnock, as he has done on the campaign trail, did not engage in the controversy, choosing instead to question his Republican opponent’s relationship to the truth.
“We will see again and 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 touting his own candidacy as it was about tying Warnock to Biden, who was invoked early and often. His effort, in the closing moments, to convince on-the-fence voters of his readiness 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 apparently there with his Democratic opponent.
From the beginning 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 on 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 the legislation he passed with the president’s help. But during a question about foreign policy, he took the chance to note a specific time when he stood up to the Biden administration.
“I’m glad we’re standing up to Putin’s aggression and we need to continue to stand up, and that’s why I stood up to the Biden administration when it proposed that we close Savanah Combat Readiness Training Center,” Warnock said. “I told the president it was the exact wrong thing to do at the exact wrong time. … We kept that gym open.”
Walker went back to his message in response: “He didn’t get up. He had laid down every time it came.”
“It’s clear,” said a somewhat exasperated Warnock, “that he has a point that he’s tried to make time and time again.”
Heading into the debate, the focus was on how Walker – and arguably less predictably, Warnock – would address allegations that the Republican candidate allegedly paid for a woman to terminate her pregnancy and then, two years later, encouraged the same woman to have the procedure a second time.
Walker did what he has done repeatedly when the allegations ignited 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, one thing about my life, I’ve been very transparent. Not like the senator, he’s been hiding things.”
Walker added: “I said that’s a lie and I’m not backing down. And we’ve got Senator Warnock, people who would do anything and say anything for this seat. But I’m not going to back down.”
CNN has not independently verified the claims about Walker.
Warnock, as he has done in the past, did not address the allegations, choosing instead to let Walker fight them without pressing them himself.
Instead, the senator took a broad approach, focusing on Walker’s “problem with the truth” and less on the specific allegations.
The candidates also clashed more generally on abortion rights, with Walker insisting he did not support a federal ban, contrary to previous statements, and pointing to the state’s restrictive “heartbeat” law. The law prohibits abortions as soon as early heart activity can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks before many women know they are pregnant.
“Regarding 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 pregnant woman’s health is at risk.
Before the Supreme Court’s decision overturning 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 track: “A patient’s room is too narrow and small and cramped for a woman, her doctor and the American government. … I trust women more than I trust politicians. ”
Walker then fired back, citing 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 those babies? And instead of aborting those babies, why don’t you baptize those babies?,” Walker said.
Warnock, as he did throughout the debate, did not respond directly to Walker’s provocation. Instead, he reiterated his position.
“There are enough politicians piling into patients’ rooms,” the senator said, “and I have no plans to join them.”
Georgia is one of 12 states not expanding Medicaid and currently has an estimated 1.5 million uninsured residents.
Walker, when asked by the moderator if the federal government should step in to ensure everyone has access to health care, began a confusing non-answer.
“Well, right now people have health care coverage. It depends on what type of coverage you want. Because if you have an able-bodied job, you have to have health care,” he said. “But everybody else — having health care is the type of health care that you get. And I think that is the problem.”
Walker went on to say that Warnock wants people to “depend on the government” while he wants “you to get rid of public health care and get on the health care he has.”
Note: As a US senator, Warnock is on a public health plan.
Walker also gave a confusing response to Warnock’s attack on his opposition to federal legislation capping the price of insulin for people with diabetes.
“I believe in reducing insulin, but at the same time you have to eat right,” Walker said. “Unless you’re eating right, insulin isn’t going to help you. So you’ve got to get food prices down, and you’ve got to get gas prices down so they can go and get insulin.”
Warnock responded by telling viewers who need the drug that Walker was in fact blaming them for their struggle 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 question for me,” he replied, invoking the story of a trauma nurse who lost coverage when she got sick and, as he put it, died “due to a lack of health care.”
“Georgia needs to expand Medicaid,” Warnock continued. “It costs us more not to expand. What we’re doing right now is we’re subsidizing health care in other states” — a reference to the state’s refusal to accept federal funds that residents are already paying for.
Debate in the debate about Warnock’s support for the police, in which the senator pointed to his support for legislation supporting smaller departments, was briefly derailed when Walker pulled what appeared to be a police badge.
The moderator quickly admonished Walker, reminding him that props were not allowed on stage.
“You have a prop,” said the surprised moderator. “That is not allowed, sir.”
Moments earlier, Warnock – in response to Walker’s claims that he has “called (police officers) names” and caused “morale to drop” – said his opponent “has a problem with the truth.”
Warnock then hit Walker with a callback to a more than two-decade-old police report in which the Republican discussed exchanges of gunfire with police and a subsequent false claim by Walker that he previously served in law enforcement.
“One thing that I have not done is that I have not impersonated a police officer and I have never, ever threatened to have a shootout with the police,” he said.
Warnock also argued that his support for greater control of the police did not undermine his support for law enforcement.
“You can support police officers, as I have done, through the COPS program, through the invest-to-protect program, while at the same time holding police officers, like all professions, accountable,” he said.