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Walker, Warnock clash over abortion, trustworthiness at Georgia debate

The candidates in one of the most closely watched races of the midterms met in their only scheduled debate

Republican Herschel Walker's bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia came to a head on Oct. 14 when they met for a televised debate. (Video: Reuters)

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Republican Herschel Walker on Friday denied in a televised debate that he paid for an abortion in 2009, part of an hour-long clash in which the account that has beleaguered his campaign for U.S. Senate was often overshadowed by other contentious exchanges.

The only scheduled debate between Walker and Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), in a battleground seen by both parties as key in the fight for control of the Senate, frequently turned bitter and personal, with the candidates accusing each other of being untrustworthy. Walker has faced criticism throughout the campaign for making false or unsubstantiated claims, and Warnock took aim at his comments anew.

Warnock said Walker “has a problem with the truth” and pointed to unsubstantiated claims by Walker that he’s worked closely with the FBI and a local police department. At one point, Walker turned to Warnock and said: “Do not bear false witness, senator.” That came in an exchange where Walker and Warnock clashed over a report that the church where he has served as a senior pastor tried to evict some residents from church-controlled homes. During the debate, Warnock said the evictions are a “false charge.”

It wasn’t until a moderator brought up the abortion claim that either candidate mentioned it. “That is a lie,” Walker said when asked the account. “I’m a Christian. I believe in life. And I tell people this: Georgia is a state that respects life.”

The comment echoed previous denials Walker has issued. He did not shed any further light on the situation Friday. While Warnock did not attack Walker over the abortion claim, he questioned his truthfulness more broadly and referenced his own performance as a father — at a moment when Walker’s commitment to fatherhood has been questioned.

“My children know that I am with them and for them and that I support them in every single way that a father does,” Warnock said.

In one of the sharpest exchanges of the evening, Warnock attacked Walker for several episodes from his past.

“I’ve never pretended to be a police officer,” said Warnock at one point, a reference to the claims by Walker about working with the FBI and a local police department. “And I’ve never threatened a shootout with police.” His comment was a reference to an incident where a police report detailed Walker threatening a “shootout.”

Rather than verbally responding, Walker pulled out what appeared to be a law enforcement badge out of his pocket to illustrate his closeness to law enforcement.

“You have a prop!” a moderator said. “You’re very well aware of the rules.”

“It’s not a prop,” Walker objected, “This is real.” Walker’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request seeking more clarity on what Walker was presenting.

The debate came about a week after a news report in which the mother of one of Walker’s children said the former football star paid for a 2009 abortion that she said he wanted her to have. The woman told The Washington Post that she had to repeatedly press Walker for funds for the procedure.

The Post has reviewed a receipt for the procedure, an ATM deposit slip that includes an image of a $700 check written by Walker days after the procedure and a “get well” card that he sent with the check. The Post has also spoken with a person the woman confided in at the time, who corroborated her account.

Walker, who has been running on a strict antiabortion platform, opposing the procedure without exceptions for rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother, said Friday that he supports Georgia’s “heartbeat” bill that does allow exceptions for rape and incest if a police report is filed. The 2019 Georgia law banned termination of most pregnancies after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or as early as about six weeks.

Warnock, who supports abortion rights, also used a line he frequently employs on the stump that a patient’s room “is too narrow and small and cramped space for a woman, her doctor and the United States government.”

Walker replied: “Did he not mention that there’s a baby in that room as well?”

When the discussion turned to health care, Walker sparked an impassioned exchange when he was asked about the cost of insulin. Warnock has often pointed to his push to cap the cost of the drug for some Americans.

“I believe in reducing insulin, but at the same time, you’ve got to eat right,” Walker said. “I know many people on insulin, and unless you’re eating right, insulin is doing you no good.”

Warnock expressed disbelief that his opponent appeared to be calling out diabetics for their health condition. “I think we’re hearing from my opponent tonight that it’s their fault that prices of insulin are being gouged.”

Neither candidate raised their hand when asked to show if they support a federal minimum wage. Warnock, who previously introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, said people deserve a livable wage and benefits.

“I’ve been a part of this conversation around the minimum wage. I think people need a livable wage, and some of that is being addressed right now in this strong labor market. So I’m willing to work with folks in the corporate community as well as the labor community to figure out how we get to a good place,” he said.

The two candidates referenced their biography, with both saying they’re from large Georgia families. Walker sought to sully one of Warnock’s strengths: oratory skills honed as a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

“He’s a neat talker,” Walker said at one point. Later, he said: “He’s a smooth-talking politician,” and then added: “He’s going to try to sweet-talk you.”

Public polls show that the race is about even, revealing a different dynamic than a competitive gubernatorial race where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has an edge over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.

Throughout the debate, Warnock referenced various times that he has worked with Republicans, name-checking Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for initiatives they’ve pushed to help reduce maternal mortality.

Warnock pointed to profit-taking by large corporations when asked about inflation. “Who exploits a pandemic?” he asked.

Walker often sought to tie his opponent to President Biden, saying Warnock and Biden are “cut from the same cloth.” “He and Joe Biden, they’re the same,” Walker said to applause from the studio audience.

Warnock tried to rebut that charge, saying, “I’ve stood up to the Biden administration.” But he dodged when asked whether Biden should run again, saying he has not thought about it.

Walker, when asked if former president Donald Trump should run again, offered clear support for the idea, calling him “my friend.” Walker added, “I won’t leave my allies.”

Walker and Warnock both said they would accept the results of the Senate election, regardless of the results.

Walker, who has previously supported Trump’s false claims that there was widespread fraud during the 2020 presidential election, also said Biden was the victor the 2020 election.

“President Biden won, and Senator Warnock won. That’s the reason I decided to run,” he said.

A majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election, according to a Post analysis.

Democrats and the Warnock campaign have aired ads criticizing Walker for presenting a false account of his education, not giving promised money to charities, violently threatening an ex-wife, overstating his work for veterans and inflating the size of his company.

Walker has acknowledged the onslaught of negative ads with a TV advertisement of his own. “I can take the hits,” Walker says in the spot as footage from a football game plays, “but it won’t change the facts.”

After the debate, Walker’s team sounded pleased with his performance on the stage. “I have not been as proud to have Herschel Walker on my team since he played football for the University of Georgia,” Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Ga.) said after the exchange.

On Sunday, the Atlanta Press Club is set to host another Senate debate. Warnock plans to attend, as does Chase Oliver, a Libertarian candidate in the race. Walker has not confirmed that he’ll be there, according to the press club’s website.

On Monday, Walker is set to participate in a televised town hall hosted by Fox News’s Sean Hannity in Acworth, Ga., north of Atlanta.

Linskey reported from Washington. Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.