Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) shakes hands with Republican candidate Herschel Walker prior to the Nexstar Georgia Senate Debate at District Live at Plant Riverside District in Savannah, Ga., on Friday, October 14, 2022. (Photo by Greg Nash/The Hill/Nexstar)

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The scene outside of the JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District just hours before tonight’s debate between Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock and his opponent, former Heisman Trophy winner, Georgia Bulldogs, and Dallas Cowboys running back Herschel Walker, looked like something straight out of a bad Hollywood movie. 

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On one side of the street were Black Warnock supporters (there were a handful of white supports as well) chanting “This is what democracy looks like” and on the other side were white Walker supporters (this reporter did not see any Black Walker supporters among the particular crowd pictured below) chanting “Run Herschel, run.” A man with a hound walked back and forth with the dog wearing a red vest with the words “Herschel” and “Walker” on either side. 

Supporters of senatorial candidate Herschel Walker crowded a street corner near the JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District Friday night. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

Hollywood could not make this up. 

Warnock supporters directly across the street from Walker supports hours before Friday night’s debate in Savannah. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

Debate night in Savannah will set the tone for debates going forward. Hosted by WSAV, the local NBC affiliate and its parent company NextStar, the hour-long debate had it’s moments and it is a good thing it did. This will most likely be the one and only debate between Walker and Warnock before Election Day, November 8. Early voting in Georgia begins Monday, October 17. Warnock and Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver, an Atlanta resident, will debate Sunday in Atlanta as part as The Atlanta Press Club Debate series. Walker is not scheduled to appear.

During the debate, which was broadcasted in front of a small live studio audience, the candidates exchanged barbs like, “He’s for Joe Biden, I’m for Georgia,” said Walker and “It’s very clear my opponent wants to run against anybody except me,” added Warnock.

Topics of discussion ranged from Warnock’s divorce and his ex-wife’s request for more child support and Walker’s domestic violence accusations from his ex-wife and oldest son Christian. 

When abortion was brought up Walker was clear that he supports Georgia House Bill 481, the “Heartbeat Bill”, which was passed April 4, 2019 and signed into law a month later on May 7 by Governor Brian Kemp. “I’m a Christian, I believe in life.”

Warnock also stood his ground on abortion being a decision remaining with a woman and her doctor and/or pastor. “We are witnessing right now what happens when politicians pile into patient’s rooms,” said Warnock. “I trust women more than I trust politicians.” The later comment drew applause and cheers from the crowd. 

Student loan forgiveness, crime and violence, and more specifically, homicides being the leading cause of death for Black men in Metro Atlanta were also topics during the debate. Both candidates were asked what they would do about the later given the opportunity to represent Georgia as one of its two Senators? Both candidates gave non-answers. Warnock said that it was “heartbreaking” and that “There’s no sickness like the loss of hope. To invest in our children is to invest in our best resources.” Walker said he would “Hold people accountable.” 

Medicaid expansion, foreign policy and nuclear weapons found their way into the conversation. Between the candidates the name “Joe Biden” was spoken 10 times, all by Walker. When asked if he would support a Biden run for the presidency in 2024, Warnock seemed visibly annoyed. “Part of the problem with our politics right now is that it’s too much about the politicians. The people of Georgia hired me to represent them regardless who’s president.”

Asked if he would support a Donald Trump campaign to return to the White House Walker was clear about where he stood: “Yes I would.”

Closing remarks were both quick with Warnock reminding voters to vote early starting Monday and Walker mentioning Joe Biden and “the damage politicians like [him] has done.” 

WSAV’s Tina Tyus-Shaw and Fox 5 Atlanta’s Buck Langford moderated the debate. 

A sign outside of the debate venue, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

Former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson was on hand and afterwards felt good about Warnock’s performance. “There’s no choice about what candidate came out on top, Senator Warnock was clearly the superior candidate” said Johnson of fellow Savannah native. “He was well informed, he has a track record and he is positive. Those are the kinds of things that voters should be looking for.”

Asked if he was voting early on Monday, Johnson said he would be out of town but would get that taken care of Thursday when he returns to Savannah. “I always vote early because I don’t want to have something happen on Election Day and I’m not able to cast my vote,” he said.

Albany City Commissioner Jalen Johnson made the trip to Savannah to support Walker. He believes Walkers performance tonight was far superior. “Herschel was the only one that got his points across,” said Johnson. “When you have a senator who votes with [President] Joe Biden 96% of the time, I think now is the time for Georgians to understand that is a factual statement. Contrary to what his opponent, Raphael Warnock, was doing tonight. He was lying.”

Two sides. One debate. One night only. Take from that what you will. 

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...