EMERSON, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker may be getting closer to debating in the state's U.S. Senate race.
Warnock said Wednesday that he will participate in the debate Walker prefers if Walker agrees to another forum Warnock wants, the latest turn in a monthslong debate over debates. But later Wednesday, Walker and a spokesperson wouldn't answer direct questions about whether Walker would agree to any other matchups.
Georgia's Senate race is one of the most closely watched in the country as Republicans try to wrest back control of Congress. Twin 2021 runoff victories by Warnock and Jon Ossoff gave Democrats control of the Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote, but Warnock has to run again this November to win a full six-year term.
Walker refused to participate in debates during the Republican primary race, brushing off criticism from GOP rivals as he cruised to victory. But Walker also repeatedly proclaimed his eagerness to face off with Warnock in the fall. Warnock responded in June by challenging Walker to three debates, one each in Atlanta, Macon and Savannah.
Last month, Walker instead accepted an invitation to an Oct. 14 debate hosted by a different Savannah television station, WSAV-TV, owned by Nexstar Media Group. The contest would be shown on Nexstar and other stations across Georgia.
The Nexstar debate promised a live audience, which Walker said was key, and said candidates would get the question topics in advance. Warnock on Wednesday said he would do the Nexstar debate if Walker would agree to forgo knowing the topics in advance and launched a campaign ad criticizing Walker for dodging him.
“The job of a U.S. senator isn’t one where you know the topics ahead of time or get a cheat sheet, and Herschel Walker shouldn’t need one to find the courage to walk on a debate stage,” Warnock’s campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, said in a statement.
Warnock and Democrats have relentlessly attacked Walker as unqualified and untrustworthy after months of news stories questioning Walker's past.
But Warnock also said he wants Walker to accept either an Oct. 13 debate sponsored by Mercer University and local news organizations in Macon or the Atlanta Press Club debate to be aired statewide on Georgia Public Broadcasting on Oct. 16.
Walker, who has attacked Warnock for dodging his chosen forum, said Wednesday that he accepts not knowing the topics in advance but did not immediately commit to a second debate.
“Let’s lock down Savannah Oct. 14th, Senator," Walker tweeted. "I don’t care what the topics are. It’s a fair debate. Open to the public. Televised statewide. And it’s not run by your donors. You in? Let’s do this for the people.”
Walker spokesperson Will Kiley said that Walker never sought the advance information on topics or questions that organizers offered and he accepts Warnock's terms for the Savannah event.
But responding to a question from a reporter after speaking at a campaign event in Emerson, in Atlanta's far northwestern suburbs, Walker wouldn't say whether he would do any forums.
“Oh, we’re going to debate — Oct. 14. He said, ‘I’m going to debate,'" Walker said of Warnock. "So I’m ready for him.”
Asked specifically whether that meant Walker would not consider any of the original three debates that Warnock agreed to attend, Kiley later repeated that Walker will debate Oct. 14 in Savannah.
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