Hometown heroes Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock in national spotlight for highly anticipated Senate debate

Savannah — Georgia voters are gearing up for the much-anticipated match Friday night at 7 p.m. ET between Senate candidates Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschelle Walker, when the two look to go head-to-head in their first and only scheduled debate.

Supporters of each candidate who spoke to CBS News say they’re tuning in tonight.

Herschel Walker Campaigns for Senator of Georgia with Nikki Haley
FILE: Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate candidate for Georgia, speaks to the media at a campaign event on September 9, 2022 in Gwinett, Georgia.

Megan Warner / Getty Images

In Walker’s hometown of Wrightsville, where a new football field named after him sits near the center of town, some local residents are eager to see University of Georgia football on the great stage.

“I plan to look at everything I get my fingers on because I like to be well-informed on both sides,” said Walker pro Robert Colson. “If I get to know the truth from a candidate, it will impress me.”

Not far from Raphael Warnock Way in Savannah, Tammy Jenkins, who went to high school with Warnock, said she expects the debate to remain focused on the issues. The race has been gaining attention lately because of a recent report from The Daily Beast that Walker, an Abortion Access rival, 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.

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

Georgia Senate candidate Raphael Warnock holds a campaign rally in Columbus
FILE: Sen Rev. Raphael Warnock speaks to supporters during his campaign tour outside the Liberty Theater on October 8, 2022 in Columbus, Georgia.

Megan Warner / Getty Images

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

Many of the voters CBS News spoke to are with Jenkins — wanting to hear about issues they care about, such as the economy.

“All the backslashing and it doesn’t matter, it mostly comes down to what you’re going to do in a Senate seat,” said Jennifer Jordan, who worries about the economy and rising gas and food prices.

Both candidates have been preparing for the debate — Walker has been preparing for months, since the summer, a campaign aide told CBS News. He did not participate in the Republican primary debate earlier this year and instead said he was already focused on defeating Warnock.

While campaign aides said they expect the debate to remain focused on the issues, rather than the recent scandals that have swirled around Walker, they say Walker is ready to respond to anything.

Warnock’s campaign, on the other hand, said the senator plans to focus on her background—which is where she grew up in public housing, which is debated. He plans to emphasize 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 allegations against Walker, his campaign manager Quentin Fulks issued a press release setting the expectation that “Walker will once again lie to the people of Georgia, this false claim.” does that it is ‘transparent’ about its history of violence.” The release did not elaborate on what that history is.

The pair virtually tied for most of the election, and the CBS News Battlegrounds tracker selected Georgia as the “toss up” state, with only 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 Democratic in control as Vice President Kamala Harris breaks any tie. .

Early voting has started on Monday. Traditionally, Democrats do better at early voting, so a heavy turnout may be an indicator that favors Warnock, while a light turnout may be positive for Walker.

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