Jul 29, 2022 - News

Herschel Walker hasn't said whether he'll debate

A debate lectern with the shadow of an exclamation point behind it

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

During the Republican Senate primary, Herschel Walker refused to debate his primary opponents, arguing he was too far ahead in the polls to do so.

  • The now-nominee did, however, promise to debate Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), including to Axios in April. He has reiterated that promise, saying he just wants a "fair and equitable" debate.

Driving the news: Now, with the race in a dead heat, Walker has still not confirmed his participation in general election debates. Warnock, who has committed to three (in Atlanta, Macon and Savannah), is not letting Walker off the hook about it.

  • Warnock ran a television ad statewide on the issue, saying "Stop dodging. Commit to debates."

What he's saying: On Twitter, Walker said that debate hosts needed to "agree to not shield" Warnock from his own questions about Warnock's record. "The debates are about *the voters* not the press or either party. You've done nothing to make sure a debate is about the voters," he wrote to Warnock.

  • Reality check: Political debate hosts and moderators do not agree to specific questions in advance.
  • Walker has also said he's done debate prep, including with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Between the lines: Atlanta Press Club's spokesman Lauri Strauss told Axios Atlanta said she had a call with Walker's campaign this week about the mid-October debate. "We don't have a commitment at this time, but I am hopeful we will soon," she said.

The big picture: Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, told Axios that debates matter for "the voters who are persuadable."

  • "Because of the tightness of this race, Walker can't afford to miss an opportunity to persuade voters on the fence.... There are people who don't know much about him as a politician who will want to know more before they commit to him," she added.

The intrigue: One Georgia Republican strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Axios that "Dodging debates make the debate an issue which, in turn, brings more attention and watchers to the actual debate. It's a never-ending story."

Flashback: Gov. Brian Kemp made an issue of former Sen. David Perdue's delays in accepting debate invitations during the primary. That was after Perdue didn't show up to his senate runoff debate with now-Sen. Jon Ossoff, leaving Ossoff with the stage to himself.

A note of disclosure: Emma Hurt is a member of the Atlanta Press Club's debate committee.


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