Warnock to Walker: ‘Stop dodging. Commit to debates.’

Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker

If Herschel Walker ultimately ends up refusing to debate, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock wants Georgians to know it’s his Republican challenger’s fault.

That’s the point of the latest TV ad from the Democrat’s campaign, which focuses on a central message: “Stop dodging. Commit to debates.” The 30-second spot, which begins airing on TV stations Tuesday, underscores that argument with its title: “Scared.”

So what’s with this debate over debates? Walker skipped showdowns with fellow Republicans ahead of the May primary, confident that he would coast to victory. But long before he won the nomination, Walker repeatedly vowed he would debate Warnock.

When pressed by reporters, the former football star said time and again he was primed for a showdown against Warnock “any day of the week.” In June, he said “name the place and the time and we can get it on.”

The time and place have been named, according to the Democrat’s camp. Warnock weeks ago accepted debate invitations from WTOC in Savannah, Mercer University in Macon and the Atlanta Press Club.

Walker, however, still hasn’t confirmed any dates, and some GOP political observers don’t think he will. Instead, he has made a sport of moving the goalposts for the events, drawing attention away from other issues that have dogged his Senate bid.

Last week, for instance, Walker indicated he would participate in the Atlanta Press Club’s Oct. 16 debate. But his spokeswoman followed up saying Walker doesn’t care about the “old way” and that a debate must have a “fair and equitable format and unbiased moderator.”

And at a campaign stop later that day, Walker said he’s trying to figure out who made Warnock “the ruler of just giving dates.” That led to a rejoinder from the Atlanta Press Club, which said it picked the date to align with early voting and ensure Congress wasn’t in session.

Georgia’s top candidates, of course, have a recent history of gamesmanship with debates.

Gov. Brian Kemp backed out of a final debate with Stacey Abrams in 2018 after Donald Trump announced a rally for his campaign. (In this cycle, he’s agreed to two statewide debates with Abrams.)

And U.S. Sen. David Perdue famously no-showed the only debate in the 2021 runoff cycle, leaving his opponent Jon Ossoff to square off against an empty podium.

This week brought new tension between Walker and Warnock when the Republican tweeted a series of questions involving President Joe Biden’s record, abortion, public safety and transgender sports along with a demand that the moderator doesn’t “shield” him from the queries.

Warnock’s campaign said it’s past time for the Republican to commit to a date.

“I don’t know if Herschel Walker is scared for voters to hear what has to say, or scared for voters to hear that he’s unprepared to speak on the issues that matter most to the people of Georgia,” said Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager.

“There’s a clear choice in the race for Senate and we hope Herschel Walker will be true to his word and commit to joining us at three debates.”