(SAVANNAH, Ga.) — Under the Friday night TV lights and locked in a tight political battle, Georgia’s Senate candidates debated for the first, and likely, only time.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and former football star and Republican nominee Herschel Walker met in Savannah, Georgia, on Friday, just three days before the start of early in-person voting.
The candidates sparred on the economy, abortion, and Herschel Walker got reprimanded by one of the moderators for using what she described as a “prop.”
It was the first time Walker hit the debate stage after skipping debates during the GOP primary and comes in the wake of allegations, first reported by the Daily Beast, that he paid the cost of a woman’s abortion more than a decade ago. Subsequent reports identified the woman as the mother of one of Walker’s children. ABC News has not independently confirmed the report.
Walker, has denied ever paying for an abortion and in an interview with ABC News’ Linsey Davis, said he knows the identity of the woman making the claims, though he maintains she is lying.
He doubled down on that response on the debate stage tonight, though his position on abortion shifted from the campaign trail.
After previously saying he supports a total abortion ban with no exceptions, Walker said Friday he backs the Georgia heartbeat bill, which allows exceptions, including rape and incest if a police report is filed.
“I support the Georgia heartbeat bill because that’s the bill of the people… I’m a Christian, but I’m also representing the people of Georgia,” Walker said.
Asked if he supports any limits on abortion, Warnock dodged, saying he saying he trusts women to make that decision.
“I have a profound reverence for life and a deep respect for choice.”
Debate moderators questioned both candidates about allegations made against them.
Warnock was asked about claims made against him by his ex-wife that his duties as a senator interfered with his parenting abilities.
“I went through a divorce,” Warnock said. “And while that was a painful period. What came out of that was two amazing children that I just talked to before I came on the stage. And my children know that I am with them and for them, and that I support them.”
Walker argued he’s been transparent while Warnock hasn’t. Walker referred to writing a book which mentioned acts of violence in his past which he claims was a by-product of dissociative identity disorder.
“You can get help. All you got to do is ask, and I’ll always, always be a champion for mental health,” Walker said.
Though, Walker added, he’s “doing well” and is ready to serve in the Senate.
“You don’t have to have treatment for it,” Walker said. “I continue to get help if I need help, but I don’t need any help. I’m doing well.”
Warnock did not attack Walker on the recent abortion allegations. However, he did say, “My opponent has a problem with the truth,” after Walker accused him of not supporting police officers.
“I’ve never pretended to be a police officer,” Warnock fired back.
The comment caused Walker to flash a badge. It was not clear what the badge was.
“I am- work with many police officers,” Walker said, eliciting a testy response from the moderator.
“Mr. Walker, you are very well aware of the rules tonight and you have a prop. That is not allowed, sir,” the moderator said.
“Well it’s not a prop. This is real,” Walker said, doubling down though he eventually put the badge away.
The candidates also answered questions on the issues.
With the economy still at the forefront of voters’ minds, when asked if he takes responsibility for rising prices, Warnock dodged, instead touting his legislative achievements.
“There’s no question that people are feeling pain at the grocery store, at the pump, at pharmacy counters,” Warnock said. “I stood up for ordinary hardworking Georgia families time and time again,” he added before talking about his work to cap the cost of insulin for Medicare recipients.
“He should tell the people of Georgia why he thinks they should have expensive insulin,” Warnock said of Walker.
Trying to emphasize that food prices are still high, Walker said if you’re not, “eatin’ right, insulin is doing you no good.”
It was a blunder Warnock took advantage of.
“I think we’re hearing from my opponent tonight. That it’s their fault. That prices of insulin are being gouged. I don’t think it’s their fault. I think it’s the fault of these pharmaceutical companies.”
The candidates were also asked to look ahead and voice if they would support a possible Biden or Trump run in 2024, which they took very different approaches answering.
Warnock, who has sought to distance himself from Biden while out on the campaign trail, said he has not thought that far ahead.
“You’re asking me whose gonna run in ’24? The people of Georgia get to decide who’s going to be their senator in three days,” Warnock said.
On the other hand, Walker said he would support Trump running in 2024 because “he’s my friend.” Though he broke from the former president, who endorsed him, by saying Joe Biden and Sen. Warnock won the 2020 Election.
In the weeks leading up to the debate, Walker has sought to downplay expectations of how he’ll match up against Warnock, an established orator serving as the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. Though Friday, he embraced his lack of political experience as a positive.
“For those of you who are concerned about voting for me- a non-politician- I want you to think about the damage politicians like Joe Biden and Raphael Warnock have done to this country,” Walker said.
Warnock spent the night laying out what he said were “deep differences” between himself and Walker, focusing on the policies he has pushed and passed while serving in the Senate.
“We have nearly 11 million people. And only two people get to represent us in the United States Senate. Just two. And when I think about that, it is an awesome responsibility. One that humbles me and inspires me to work as hard as I can for hardworking families every single day. And I’ve worked with Democrats and Republicans in order to do that work.”
Heading into the final stretch of the campaign, both candidates are set to make their pitch to voters in a race that could determine the balance of power in Congress.
New polling, released from Quinnipiac University Wednesday, shows despite recent allegations against Walker, Georgia’s Senate race is still close. Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock leads Walker 52% to 45%, an essentially unchanged margin from Quinnipiac’s Sept. 14 poll where Warnock held an advantage over Walker 52% to 46%.
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