Professional athlete turned Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker has accepted an invitation to debate Democratic opponent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and it turns out it’s the only debate that provides the topics in advance.
That’s the only measurable difference between the four proposed debates, an issue that campaigns and event organizers say remains unresolved and confusing, despite the candidates bickering for weeks.
Walker’s campaign has said they chose the forum, organized by the national news conglomerate Nexstar and its Savannah-based NBC affiliate WSAV, because it would have a live audience and the “format and moderators are fair and would allow each candidate an equal opportunity to share their message”.
But apparently it’s rare for debates in Georgia to provide the issues ahead of time. None of the three debates Warnock has previously agreed to offer the notice, according to the organizers’ conversations with The Daily Beast.
Larry Silbermann, general manager of WTOC Savannah, which has already reached an agreement with Warnock’s campaign for a debate in mid-October, told The Daily Beast that he had never received such a request.
“In my 30-plus years of doing this, we’ve never publicized the issues or had a candidate ask for them,” Silbermann said.
Representatives for the other two hosts, the Mercer University Center for Collaborative Journalism and the Atlanta Press Club, also called the stipulation unusual, with APC CEO Lauri Strauss saying it was a “policy of long-standing” of his organization to provide full independence to his interrogating journalists. , and not reveal topics ahead of time.
Nexstar spokesman Gary Weitman declined to hear questions from The Daily Beast. He provided a statement acknowledging that Nexstar had introduced both candidates, but “did not release any details about this event as both candidates had not yet agreed to participate.”
“A candidate unilaterally decided to publicly announce that he would participate,” the statement said, adding that Nexstar, the largest local media company in the country“will do everything possible to reach an agreement with both candidates regarding their participation.”
While Nexstar may not have released any details, Georgia Public Broadcasting published terms last week.
“Topics will be provided to campaigns prior to broadcast, but specific questions will not,” the term sheet says.
The terms also note that “candidates should expect some of the questions to be visually supported by on-screen graphics,” which “will help the candidate and voter better understand the question.”
Those would seem appealing features for a campaign rife with controversy and lies, whose staff have tried for months to run a severely prone to making mistakes candidate with no “understanding of public policy” or “knowledge of issues that matter to the people of Georgia,” as the Valdosta Daily Times put it on like the daily beast reported last month, Walker’s own campaign staff shielded his problems from GOP brass, while mocking his intelligence behind his back.
“He messes up on Fox News where people agree with him, so the idea of him doing an adverse interview or interacting with people who disagree with him is not a good start,” said an adviser to Walker. to The Daily Beast at the time. , comparing a tough interview to sending Walker “to the lion’s den.”
The campaign brought in renowned debate coach Brett O’Donnell, who has advised error-prone conservative forebears like former President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But The Daily Beast has learned that O’Donnell abruptly stopped responding to questions from Georgia debate officials last week and redirected inquiries to the campaign.
Walker, who dodged debates with Republicans before the May primary, struts across the state, calling Warnock “totally scared” to debate it as recently as Monday. Walker also likes to point out that the Nexstar debate will be in Savannah, Warnock’s “backyard,” but that’s also where Walker has set up a base of operations for your biggest companyand where one of his sisters lives.
However, Walker has just accepted Nexstar’s offer. In the past week—and only after constant criticism from Warnock, who agreed to three other debates weeks ago. Last month, the first-term Democrat released a campaign ad accusing his opponent of talking tough to “dodge” him, citing months by walker brags that he was ready face the owner at any time.
“I told him to name the place and time, and we can do it,” Walker saying WSB Radio in June.
Since then, Warnock has named three locations and times for the debates that Walker has not agreed to.
Walker’s confusing remarks have turned the debate disagreement into a long and twisted saga, both for the public, Georgia voters, and for campaigns and organizers. The Walker campaign directly attacked one of those organizers this week.
Silbermann, of WTOC Savannah, said that when Walker Announced on Fox News last Sunday that he had accepted a debate before a live audience in Savannah, he initially thought it was his.
“At first I thought he was referring to the OMCC debate, because he had just sent them an email,” said Silbermann, who at the time had been in contact with the campaign and O’Donnell, the debate coach.
“He reached out on Sunday with questions about the format, like to see if [Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver] I would be participating,” Silbermann recalled. Silbermann said he responded that they would not include Oliver, who was voting at 3 percent, below the OMCC’s 10 percent threshold. (The APC and Mercer University debates would include Oliver, but he did not qualify for the Nexstar debate, according to his term sheet.)
O’Donnell had also asked if the OMCC could provide a live hearing format, Silbermann said, which, after obtaining Warnock’s consent, said they could accommodate. Hours later, Walker saying Fox News had agreed to a live debate in Savannah.
The next day, Silbermann asked O’Donnell if Walker had referred to his event. But when O’Donnell responded a day or two later, he told Silbermann that he would no longer be answering those questions for the campaign, Silbermann recalled, redirecting the query to campaign manager Scott Paradise. Paradise also hasn’t responded, Silbermann said, adding that “opaque is a good way to describe” the campaign’s behavior.
Paradise declined to comment for this article.
Debbie Blankenship, director of the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University, said she has never heard from Walker’s team.
“We sent emails on June 13, June 23, July 7, July 14 and July 28, but have not received a response,” Blankenship told the Daily Beast. She said Warnock’s campaign had officially accepted the invitation on June 23 for the town hall-style debate, which would feature questions from the community, moderated by local journalists.
“We are still hoping to hear from the Walker campaign,” Blankenship added.
Strauss, director of the Atlanta Press Club, the state’s main forum for candidate debates, told The Daily Beast that Walker’s campaign had responded from the start.
“We have been in contact frequently and they have always responded quickly,” Strauss said.
Strauss said Walker’s campaign reached out in late July with questions about the format, questions he declined to disclose, and that he emailed a response Monday night. The campaign has not responded, he told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
The next morning, the Walker campaign abruptly rejected the press club’s offer. The move came after an article in the Washington Free Beacon revealed that in 2020, Strauss had donated $173 to President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign and $35 to Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ).
Strauss provided a statement to The Daily Beast acknowledging the $208 total for Biden and Kelly, “both of whom are longtime friends of the family,” but noted that he has not given any money to any Georgia candidate, and that the other members of the APC board mentioned in the Free Beacon report “have nothing to do with our discussions”.
“The reason we are able to host an extensive series each year is due in large part to a donation from the late Charlie Loudermilk, who was a well-known conservative businessman in Georgia and a lifelong Republican,” the statement read, and adds that Loudermilk believed in “robust discussion of the issues by people of different political views.”
Paradise, Walker’s campaign manager, told the outlet that “we are leaving the elite media behind and rejecting the partisan debate of the Press Club.”
On Tuesday morning, Walker aware a Twitter video in response to the report.
“Think about it. People who are supposed to be running a fair debate are helping pay for Warnock’s campaign,” Walker said in the video.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, Nexstar employees, including its president of digital operations, contributed more than $10,000 to Warnock, Biden and the Democratic National Committee in 2020, as well as about $6,000 to former President Donald Trump’s various PACs.
Notably, Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has committed to an APC debate this fall against Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams. And in 2020, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) debated Warnock at the Atlanta Press Club event, twice.
While Nexstar’s official political action committee has not given money to Warnock, Biden, or Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Nexstar’s PAC has. $5,000 each to Ossoff and Warnock’s Republican opponents in 2020: Loeffler and former Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).
Paradise did not respond when asked if the campaign would reject Nexstar’s debate on the same principle.
If Walker doesn’t participate in the APC, he will be represented as Perdue when he skipped the second debate because of an empty lectern.
It’s unclear whether the Nexstar debate will offer Walker the same opportunity if Warnock declines and, if so, whether Walker would take it.