It’s on: Walker and Warnock to debate in Savannah on Oct. 14

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican hopeful Herschel Walker will meet in an Oct. 14 debate in Savannah, ending weeks of wrangling, taunting and name-calling by agreeing to a nationally watched showdown that will be one of the campaign season’s biggest events.

Aides to Warnock and Walker confirmed Tuesday that they will both participate in the debate after the Democratic incumbent’s campaign sent an email to Nexstar staffers formally accepting the faceoff.

Walker, a first-time candidate and former football star, has been gaffe-prone on the campaign trail, leading even some of his supporters to wonder how he would fare in a live showdown against Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

”Someone had to put an end to Herschel Walker’s games, and today Reverend Warnock showed again why he is the best person for the job,” said Warnock campaign manager Quentin Fulks.

Walker said his rival has ”a lot of explaining to do.“

“I’m looking forward to October 14th so the voters can see the contrast between us,” he added.

The agreement ends a long-running dispute over the timing of the debates. Warnock months ago agreed to invitations from WTOC in Savannah, Mercer University in Macon and the Atlanta Press Club.

But Walker refused to accept any of those dates. Instead, after mounting pressure, he accepted a fourth invitation from Nexstar affiliate WSAV in Savannah on Oct. 14.

The breakthrough came last week when Warnock agreed to participate in the debate so long as Walker met other stipulations, including participating in another debate in either Macon or Savannah.

Although Walker still hasn’t agreed to a second debate, Warnock dropped the condition on Tuesday. With polls showing a tight race, the Democrat apparently calculated a single debate appearance was better than none at all.

Walker, meanwhile, has quietly prepared for a debate regardless, recently meeting with a coach.

There was no immediate word whether Walker would take part in a second debate, as Warnock had demanded.

Asked about the possibility of a second showdown on Friday, Walker challenged Warnock.

”Tell him to volunteer to do the first one,” Walker said at a campaign event in Norcross. “Put his big man pants on, quit complaining.”

‘Get it on’

It will be Walker’s first debate appearance after he skipped showdowns with fellow Republicans ahead of the May primary, confident that he would coast to victory and intent on demonstrating to supporters that he was focused on Warnock.

He repeatedly vowed he would debate the Democrat “any day of the week.” But even after Warnock accepted the trio of invitations, Walker refused to confirm any specific dates. Instead, he delivered vague responses about his willingness to debate.

“Name the place and the time,” he said at one stop, “and we can get it on.”

Credit: File photos

Credit: File photos

That raised concerns among senior GOP officials worried a refusal could hurt his chances with swing voters in a race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate. Some urged Walker and his advisers to agree to a debate to prove the Republican wasn’t afraid of meeting the incumbent in a televised faceoff.

That pressure helped trigger Walker’s surprise decision in early August to agree to participate in a fourth debate, saying he wanted an event “in front of a crowd” in Warnock’s hometown of Savannah. Nexstar proposed an audience of about 500 people in a theater in Savannah.

“This debate is going to be about the people. It’s not about some political party. It’s not about the press,” Walker said. “But the people need to see the differences between Sen. Warnock and Herschel Walker.”

Warnock has used his rival’s reluctance to frame the Republican as unfit for the office.

“I’ve been in the Senate for a little while right now, and I can tell you that the Senate floor is a much more challenging space than a debate stage,” Warnock said at a recent campaign stop.

“And if my opponent is not ready to face me on a debate stage,” he said, “I’m not sure why he thinks he is ready to serve in the United States Senate.”

Libertarian Senate candidate Chase OIiver said Tuesday Nexstar officials have not responded to his request to be included in the Oct. 14 debate.