The debate between Senator Raphael Warnock and his less experienced Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, had its share of sharp clashes, as the two candidates in one of the country’s most-watched Senate races faced off for their one and only debate.
Mr. Walker, a football star and first-time candidate, surpassed low expectations, largely hewing to his strategy of tying his opponent to President Biden, whose approval ratings remain underwater in the pivotal swing state. Mr. Warnock, a pastor-turned-politician, tried to cast Mr. Walker as unfit for office because of his policy positions and personal baggage.
Here are standout moments from the debate.
A badge comes out.
Mr. Walker’s veracity has been a major issue in the campaign, as he has been accused of misrepresenting topics, including his résumé, his charitable donations and his number of children. Mr. Warnock tried to use an exchange over crime to accuse his opponent of lying.
Mr. Warnock then referred to the time his opponent claimed to have been a police officer and an F.B.I. agent. Mr. Walker had made the claims as recently as 2019, when he told an audience that he was an F.B.I. agent — which he has never been. He has also claimed to work with the Cobb County Police Department in Georgia. The department told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there was no record of him working there.
In response at the debate, Mr. Walker pulled out what appeared to be a badge before being reprimanded by a moderator for violating a prohibition against using “props.” Mr. Walker replied, “Well, it’s not a prop. This is real.”
The State of the 2022 Midterm Elections
With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.
- The Final Stretch: With less than one month until Election Day, Republicans remain favored to take over the House, but momentum in the pitched battle for the Senate has seesawed back and forth.
- A Surprising Battleground: New York has emerged from a haywire redistricting cycle as perhaps the most consequential congressional battleground in the country. For Democrats, the uncertainty is particularly jarring.
- Arizona’s Governor’s Race: Democrats are openly expressing their alarm that Katie Hobbs, the party’s nominee for governor in the state, is fumbling a chance to defeat Kari Lake in one of the most closely watched races.
- Herschel Walker: The Republican Senate nominee in Georgia reportedly paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion, but members of his party have learned to tolerate his behavior.
A shift from Walker on abortion.
The most notable exchange over abortion rights wasn’t about accusations that Mr. Walker paid for an ex-girlfriend’s procedure. Instead, it was an apparent change in policy.
In May, Mr. Walker said a ban on abortion should have no exceptions, pushing for a more expansive proposal than the six-week prohibition passed by the Republican-controlled State Legislature. “Like I say, I believe in life. I believe in life,” he told reporters.
On the debate stage, he softened that position, implying that he backs the six-week bill that includes exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. He then turned to Mr. Warnock’s stance, saying the pastor backs no limits on the procedure and is ignoring “the baby in the room as well.”
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Painting one another as ‘desperate.’
In one notable exchange, Mr. Walker tried to flip the script on Mr. Warnock, after the pastor skirted questions about whether an Atlanta apartment building owned by Ebenezer Baptist Church had evicted tenants. The apartments are for people experiencing homelessness or with mental disabilities.
Mr. Warnock tried to cast Republicans as “desperate” for trying to “sully” a church attended by civil rights icons, including former Representative John Lewis, of Georgia, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Walker wasn’t cowed, returning to the issue a question later to cast Mr. Warnock as the “desperate” one.
“It’s OK to speak the truth. Do not bear false witness, senator,” shouted Mr. Walker, who said the evictions were “written about in the paper.”
Walker reverses on the 2020 election.
In an election that has been influenced by the positions of former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Walker made another notable reversal.
In the past, Mr. Walker has repeatedly questioned the results of the 2020 election and spread false stolen-election theories. Immediately after the 2020 race, he did not declare Mr. Biden the rightful winner.
“I can guarantee you, Joe Biden didn’t get 50 million people to vote for him, but yet, people think that he’s won this election,” Mr. Walker said in a Fox News interview in December 2020. Mr. Biden won more than 81 million votes.
Mr. Walker has since tried to temper those statements. In May, during his primary, he told an interviewer, “I think something happened; I don’t know what it was, but I said something happened so people are angry.”
But on Friday night, when asked whether Mr. Biden had defeated Mr. Trump, he sounded a different note.
“President Biden won and Raphael Warnock won,” he said.
On questions of democracy, both candidates said they would respect the results of the election, regardless of its outcome.
Looking ahead to 2024.
The two men veered from one another on a question of whether they would support their party’s leaders if they won the presidential nomination in 2024.
Mr. Walker quickly answered in the affirmative, saying “President Trump is my friend.” He used the moment to hit Mr. Biden — and by extension Mr. Warnock — for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, a move he described as abandoning an ally.
For Mr. Warnock, however, the question appeared more difficult. He did not answer directly, saying he had not “spent a minute” thinking about it and noting that he was more focused on the election at hand.