December 7, 2022

Savannah –  Senate hopefuls Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker are facing off Friday night in their first and only scheduled debate before the election. 

In his opening statement, Warnock focused on his background — including how he grew up in public housing down the road from where the debate is being held — telling viewers that “only in America is my story possible.” Walker also focused on his life in Georgia, arguing that Warnock left the state behind when he joined the Senate. 

The candidates discussed many issues critical to Georgia, including the economy, election integrity, and abortion. Abortion has brought an extra level of attention to the race in recent days, due to a recent report by The Daily Beast that Walker, an abortion access opponent, paid for a woman’s abortion. The news outlet later reported that the woman is the mother of one of Walker’s children. Walker has repeatedly denied the allegation. CBS News has not confirmed the Daily Beast’s reporting.

Walker on Friday night said once again that the allegation is a “lie,” telling voters that “I’m a Christian, I believe in life.”  

Ahead of the debate, supporters of each candidate who spoke with CBS News said they planned to tune in. 

In Walker’s hometown of Wrightsville, where a brand new football field bearing his name sits near the town center, some local residents said they were looking forward to seeing the University of Georgia football great take the stage.    

Herschel Walker Campaigns For Senator Of Georgia With Nikki Haley
Republican Senate candidate for Georgia, Herschel Walker speaks to media at a campaign event on September 9, 2022 in Gwinnett, Georgia. 

Megan Varner / Getty Images

“I’m planning to watch everything I get my fingers on because I like to be well-informed on both sides,” said Robert Colson, a Walker supporter. “If I can find truth out of a candidate, that will impress me.”

Not far from Raphael Warnock Way in Savannah, Tammie Jenkins, who went to high school with Warnock, said she hoped the debate stayed focused on the issues. 

“He was always smart,” Jenkins said of Warnock. She supported him in 2020 but is keeping an open mind. “I want to know and see everyone’s opinions.”

Georgia Senate Candidate Raphael Warnock Holds A Campaign Rally In Columbus
Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock speaks to supporters during his campaign tour, outside of the Liberty Theater on October 8, 2022 in Columbus, Georgia. 

Megan Varner / Getty Images

But not all voters were optimistic about the content of the debate. George Fredrick of Wrightsville told CBS News, “I want to see the truth,” but he admits, “I think it’s going to get ugly.” 

Many of the voters CBS News spoke to were with Jenkins — they want to hear about issues they care about, like the economy.

“All the backslashing and all that doesn’t matter, it mostly gets down to what are you going to do if you get into the Senate seat,” said Jennifer Jordan, who worries about the economy and rising gas and food prices.

Both candidates prepared for the debate — Walker has been getting ready for months, since summer, a campaign aide told CBS News. He didn’t participate in the Republican primary debate earlier this year and instead said he was already focused on beating Warnock. 

While campaign aides said they hoped this debate would focus on the issues, rather than the recent scandals surrounding Walker, they said Walker was ready to respond to anything. 

On the other side, Warnock’s campaign said before the debate began that the senator plans to focus on his background — including how he grew up in public housing down the road from where the debate is being held. He planned to emphasize the contrasts with Walker, whom he has sought to portray as out-of-step with Georgia.  

While Warnock has refrained from commenting directly on the recent accusations against Walker, his campaign manager Quentin Fulks sent out a press release setting the expectation that “Walker will lie to the people of Georgia once again, falsely claiming he’s been ‘transparent’ about his history of violence.” The release did not elaborate on what that history is.

Most polls have the pair virtually tied, and the CBS News Battleground Tracker has Georgia as a “toss up” state, with just 25 days until Election Day. Republicans nationwide are keeping their eyes on the Peach State as they try to work to take back control of the Senate, currently split 50-50, but under Democratic control because Vice President Kamala Harris breaks any tie. 

Early voting starts Monday. Traditionally, Democrats do better in early voting, so heavy turnout could be an indicator that favors Warnock, while lighter turnout could be positive for Walker.

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