The debate that took place between Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker Friday night in Savannah proved that this race is still a toss-up. Georgia’s two 2022 U.S. Senate nominees met to discuss their positions on issues such as abortion, Medicaid, and their personal characters.
The debate took place just a few weeks after a damning scandal plagued the Walker campaign. According to the Daily Beast, Walker, who is vehemently pro-life, paid $700 to a woman in 2009 for an abortion procedure. Walker swiftly denied the claims. Hours after, Walker’s son Christian appeared to confirm the story on Twitter. And shortly after that, the Daily Beast further reported that the woman who received the $700 payment from Walker also had a child with him. In a series of interviews with The New York Times, the unnamed woman later stated the former University of Georgia football star urged her to have a second abortion but she decided to have the child, a now 10-year-old son with Walker.
There is no question that Walker’s past has been an extreme barrier for him. His constant lies about being an FBI agent, being a police officer, and graduating from UGA at the top of his class have left both the national GOP and his staffers alike incredibly frustrated.
Another topic of discussion that has been of concern to many voters in Georgia has been Walker’s mental state. Walker has struggled to develop fully coherent sentences, which have raised questions about his fitness to be a United States Senator. Friday’s debate would serve as a test to see if Walker can confidently serve as a viable Senatorial candidate.
Senator Warnock has continued to hold a steady but closing lead throughout the race. For a Democrat in a historically red state, Warnock has maintained a rather decent reputation in the state. His avoidance of national political polarization, while also supporting progressive policies has been tactful and intelligent.
Warnock was heavily favored entering this debate. The national coverage exposing Walker’s past has allowed Warnock’s folksy, pastoral charm to prevail. However, the debate did not go as planned. Here’s my breakdown of who won and who lost:
Loser #1: News Nation
Firstly, News Nation had one of the most poorly operated debates in recent debate history. Everything from the topics, time allocation, and moderation was incredibly low quality. The role of a journalist is to unveil and expose information that is unattainable to the public population. Fox 5 Atlanta’s Buck Lanford and WSAV-TV anchor Tina Tyus-Shaw performed poorly.
Firstly, allowing Walker to pull out a prop without any sort of discipline during a debate disqualifies News Nation, Lanford, and Tynus-Shaw. The prop Walker pulled out was a supposed police badge that he claims he received while serving in a law enforcement capacity. After the candidate was admonished, he put the prop back in his pocket.
The moderators also failed to give any specific examples about Walker’s past. They completely generalized and overlooked Walker’s domestic violence accusations and also failed to question his possible hypocrisy on abortion and absent fatherhood. Meanwhile, Warnock was pushed on alleged eviction scandals that involve his church and his child support payments to his ex-wife.
The balancing of the questions was completely off. The journalistic malpractice continued in a heavily-errored graphic that was displayed to viewers. The graphic was a poll conducted by Emerson College of the “top issue for Georgia voters.”
Listed number one was the economy, the second was the threat to democracy, and the third was abortion access. All were correctly graphed, with the exception of abortion access — the infographic forgot to include a bar next to the statistic. Just glancing, viewers would believe zero percent of voters cared about the matter because it isn’t highlighted. Although it seems minute, these inaccuracies can mislead many voters and continue to show just how much of a disservice News Nation did to its audience.
Loser #2: Raphael Warnock
Warnock did not perform as well as anticipated throughout the debate. He struggled to answer questions convincingly and concisely, as he has been proven to have the ability to (looking back at his 2020 debate with former Senator Kelly Loeffler). He also failed to be powerful in his messaging and agenda. There’s a multitude of accomplishments he should have bragged about including passing the 2021 infrastructure deal, canceling student loan debt, and passing a law establishing semiconductor manufacturing here in America.
Additionally, Warnock failed to go on the offensive with Walker. Walker is a candidate with a deeply controversial and complicated past. For Warnock to not mention any of the recent stories broken in the national press regarding Walker’s personal life is politically irrational. Walker’s own son, who is an adamant Trump supporter, denounced his father’s candidacy. On top of that, Walker has a multitude of stories regarding his personal life that would completely contradict his policies. Although Warnock is a pastor, maintaining a moral high ground by not mentioning any of your opponent’s personal characteristics is a grave political mistake. Painting a picture of the kind of man Walker is would have especially been convincing to the suburban women voters the Democratic Party attracted in 2020.
The Winner: Walker
Walker won the night. The bar was so incredibly low for him going into this debate. This low bar was set by Walker himself, who downplayed his ability to orate as well as Walker at campaign rallies. In the end, it was an incredibly intelligent strategy. Downplaying your performance before the debate will allow even the most subpar performance to come out as articulate, and well thought out.
This strategy played out well for President Biden in the 2020 Presidential Debates. Trump overplayed Biden’s supposed failing cognitive state so heavily, as long as Biden answered questions in a calm, understandable way, he would come out on top at the end.
Additionally, Walker avoided many questions by deflecting them onto Warnock or just altogether not answering the questions given in general. The failure of the moderators to heavily push back or critique any of his statements allowed Walker to put up a fight. There’s no question he won the night.
The real question however is will this debate change the results of the election? Warnock’s continued but shrinking lead on Walker might push the race to a runoff, which might bolster Democratic turnout. However, Republicans who were on the fence about voting for Walker might have been comforted by Friday’s performance. Only time will tell, but one thing is clear: this race is far from over.
Early voting in Georgia begins Monday, Oct. 17.