Herschel Walker to debate Raphael Warnock – if he gets the topics ahead of time

Professional athlete turned Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker has accepted an invitation to debate from Democratic opponent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and it just so happens to be the only debate that provides the topics in advance.

That’s the only appreciable difference between four proposed debates, a topic that campaigns and event organizers say remains unresolved and confusing, despite the candidates nibbling at each other for weeks.

Walker’s campaign has said they chose the forum – hosted by 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 give each contestant a chance equal to share their message.

But it is apparently rare for debates in Georgia to offer the topics in advance. According to the organizers’ conversations with The Daily Beast, none of the three debates on which Warnock has previously agreed to offer heads-up.

Larry Silbermann, chief executive of WTOC Savannah, which has already reached an agreement with the Warnock campaign for a debate in mid-October, told the Daily Beast that he has never responded to such a request.

“In my more than 30 years of work, we have never given the subjects or asked for a candidate,” Silbermann said.

Representatives from the other two hosts – the Mercer University Center for Collaborative Journalism and the Atlanta Press Club – also called the stipulation unusual, with APC executive director Lauri Strauss saying it was “long-term policy.” date” of his organization to grant complete independence to his journalists. , and not to reveal the subjects in advance.

Nexstar spokesman Gary Weitman declined to hear questions from The Daily Beast. He provided a statement acknowledging that Nexstar had introduced the two contestants, but “did not release any details about this event as the two contestants had not yet agreed to participate.”

“A contestant has unilaterally decided to publicly announce that they will be participating,” the statement said, adding that Nexstar, the the largest local media company in the country“will make every effort to reach an agreement with the two candidates regarding their participation.”

Although Nexstar may not have released details, Georgia Public Broadcasting published the terms last week.

“Topics will be provided to campaigns prior to broadcast, but specific questions will not,” the term sheet reads.

The terms also note that “candidates should expect some of the questions to be visually supported by on-screen graphics”, which will “help both the candidate and the voter understand the question better”.

These features seem appealing to a campaign plagued by controversy and lies, whose staff have tried for months to manage a seriously prone to blunders candidate with “no understanding of public policy” or “knowledge of the issues that matter to the Georgian people”, as the Valdosta Daily Times Put the. As The Daily Beast reported last month, Walker’s own campaign staff shielded his troubles from senior Republican Party brass, while poking fun at his intelligence behind his back.

“He screws up Fox News where people agree with him, so the idea of ​​him taking a negative interview or interacting with people who disagree with him is a no-start,” said an adviser to Walker at the Daily Beast at the time. , likening a difficult interview to sending Walker “into the lion’s den”.

The campaign has tapped renowned debate coach Brett O’Donnell, who has advised gaffe-prone conservative ancestors like former President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But The Daily Beast has learned that O’Donnell abruptly stopped answering questions from Georgia debate officials last week and redirected inquiries to the campaign.

Walker, who dodged debates with Republicans ahead of the May primary, struts around the state, calling Warnock “totally scared” to debate him as recently as Monday. Walker also likes to point out that the Nexstar Debate will take place in Savannah, Warnock’s “backyard” – but that’s also where Walker has organized a base for his biggest businessand where one of his sisters lives.

However, Walker just accepted Nexstar’s offer. Last week– and only after regular barbs from Warnock, who agreed to three more debates weeks ago. Last month, the first term Democrat released a campaign announcement accusing his tough-tongued opponent of ‘dodge’ him, citing month by Walker is bragging this he was ready confront the holder at any time.

“I told him to name the place and the time, and we can do that”, Walker Told WSB Radio in June.

Warnock has since named three locations and times for proceedings which Walker did not accept.

Walker’s confusing statements have turned the debate disagreement into a long, twisted saga, for the public, Georgian voters, campaigns and organizers alike. The Walker campaign directly attacked one such organizer this week.

Silbermann of WTOC Savannah said that when Walker announcement on Fox News last Sunday that he accepted a debate in front of a live audience in Savannah, he at first thought it was his.

“At first I thought he was talking about the WTOC debate, because I had just emailed them,” said Silbermann, who had been in contact with the campaign and O’Donnell at the time. , the debate coach.

“He reached out on Sunday with questions about the format, as if to see if [Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver] would participate,” recalls Silbermann. Silbermann said he responded that they would not include Oliver, who votes 3%, below the WTOC’s 10% threshold. (The APC and Mercer University debates would include Oliver, but he didn’t qualify for the Nexstar debate, according to their terminology record.)

O’Donnell had also asked if the WTOC could provide a live hearing format, Silbermann said, which after obtaining consent from Warnock said they could accommodate. A few hours later, Walker Told Fox News, he 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 he was no longer answering those questions for the campaign, Silbermann recalled, redirecting the inquiry to campaign manager Scott Paradise. Paradise also didn’t respond, Silbermann said, adding that “opaque is a good way to describe” campaign behavior.

Paradise declined to comment for this article.

Debbie Blankenship, director of the Mercer University Center for Collaborative Journalism, said she had never heard of Team Walker.

“We sent emails on June 13, June 23, July 7, July 14 and July 28, but got no response,” Blankenship told The Daily Beast. She said the Warnock campaign officially accepted the invitation on June 23 for the town hall-style debate, which would feature questions from the community, moderated by local reporters.

“We’re still hoping to hear from the Walker campaign,” Blankenship added.

Strauss, head of the Atlanta Press Club, the state’s premier forum for candidate debates, told The Daily Beast that the Walker campaign was responsive from the start.

“We’ve been in touch frequently, and they’ve always been quick to respond,” Strauss said.

Strauss said the Walker campaign reached out in late July with questions about the format — questions it declined to divulge — and emailed a response Monday night. The campaign has not responded, she told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.

The following morning, the Walker campaign abruptly rejected the press club’s offer. The move came after a Washington Free Beacon article revealed that in 2020, Strauss 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 to Biden and Kelly — ‘both are longtime family friends’ — but stressed that she hadn’t given any money to any candidate from Georgia, and that other APC board members 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 in large part due to an endowment from the late Charlie Loudermilk, who was a well-known conservative businessman in Georgia and a lifelong Republican,” the statement read. , adding that Loudermilk believed in “a solid discussion of issues by people of different political views.

Paradise, Walker’s campaign manager, told the outlet that “we are leaving behind the elite media and rejecting the partisan debate of the Press Club.”

Tuesday morning, Walker job a Twitter video in response to the report.

“Think about it. The people who are supposed to hold a fair debate are helping pay for Warnock’s campaign,” Walker said in the video.

According to documents filed by the Federal Election Commission, 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 Gov. Brian Kemp engaged in 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 hasn’t given any money to Warnock, Biden, or Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Nexstar’s PAC has given $5,000 each to Ossoff and Warnock’s 2020 Republican opponents – Loeffler and former Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

Paradise did not respond when asked if the campaign would reject the Nexstar debate on the same principle.

If Walker does not participate in the APC, he will be represented as Perdue was when he skipped the second debate – by an empty desk.

It’s unclear whether the Nexstar debate will offer Walker the same opportunity if Warnock declines – and if so, whether Walker would take it.