ATLANTA (AP) – After spending months arguing that Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker is “not ready” for high elected office, Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia is intensifying his criticism ahead of Election Day, saying the sports star is fundamentally unfit for Capitol Hill.
From a rally with former President Barack Obama to a nationwide bus tour leading up to Tuesday’s Election Day, Warnock branded Walker a “pathological liar” who exaggerated his business, academic, professional and philanthropic achievements and accused of violence against members of his family and paying for girls’ abortions despite his public opposition to the procedure.
“This is a man who lies about the most basic facts of his life,” Warnock said on the stage he shared with Obama. “And now he wants the rest of us… now somehow to imagine that he’s a United States senator. … Herschel Walker is not ready. He’s not ready. Not only is he not ready. He’s out of shape.”
Walker, who denies ever paying for any abortions, stands by the argument he’s made for months: that Warnock is a rubber stamp for President Joe Biden and the Democratic majority in Congress that Walker blames for inflation, rising crime and the steady flow of immigrants across the U.S. border with Mexico.
“He talked about not being ready. No, you’re not ready,” Walker replied Thursday in suburban Atlanta. “Because you either voted with Joe Biden 96% of the time, or you had no idea what you were doing. You elect who you want – you have no idea what you’re doing or you’ve voted with him 96% of the time which is going in the wrong direction.”
Those contrasting closing remarks reflect the increasingly personal nature of the contest in Georgia and the broader national struggle for control of Congress. Warnock and most Democrats in the Senate have steered clear of Biden and the national party brand amid generation-high inflation, urging voters to consider their choices between individual candidates instead. Republicans, in turn, sought to nationalize Tuesday’s election as a referendum on Biden and his policies.
The meeting in Georgia could help determine which party controls the Senate in the final two years of Biden’s term. The House is now split 50-50, with Vice Speaker Kamala Harris giving Democrats the deciding vote.
During the summer and early autumn, Warnock (53) usually avoided a direct attack from Walker (60). Instead, he suggested that the famous athlete was simply not ready for the Senate. Warnock spent more time touting his track record in the Senate, particularly infrastructure and economic development measures he worked on with Republicans, along with Democratic measures to cap the cost of insulin and other drugs for older Americans on Medicare.
But Warnock has stepped up his attacks since two women came forward in October to accuse Walker of encouraging and paying for their abortions when they were dating the former professional soccer star. Walker, who supports a national abortion ban, called the allegations “bullshit.”
The senatorial changes came alongside polls suggesting a close finish, with the possibility of a runoff; Georgia law requires a majority to win statewide office, and a third-party candidate in the Senate race could keep Warnock and Walker below that threshold.
“This man says he is in the police. He didn’t. To the FBI. He wasn’t,” Warnock told supporters last week during his bus tour, referring to some of Walker’s inaccurate claims. “He said he graduated from the University of Georgia. He didn’t. He said he was valedictorian (of his high school class). It’s not. … He said he has 800 employees. He was only eight.”
In DeKalb County outside Atlanta, Warnock mocked Walker for wearing a badge of honor, apparently given to him by a Georgia sheriff, as proof of his claim of years of law enforcement. “He literally wears his lies as a badge of honour,” Warnock told voters.
Warnock continued to push aggressively in his hometown of Savannah on Sunday, with stops planned for Monday in Macon and Columbus, hitting Georgia’s largest metro areas outside of Atlanta. Asked why he waited so late to attack Walker directly, Warnock said it was partly because another of Walker’s accusers said in an interview that she “felt threatened” by Walker, who admitted to some violent tendencies in his past, but said were the result of a mental illness that he now has under control.
Walker dismissed Warnock’s criticism in a speech Thursday in Smyrna, north of Atlanta. He presented himself as the fairer candidate and said his debate with Warnock proved he was up to the job.
“I took that man to school, I was the adult in that room,” said Walker, who will close his campaign Monday in the GOP-leaning suburbs of Atlanta.
“He was talking about me. He even brought the former president to talk about me,” Walker said, referring to Obama’s Oct. 28 visit.
Walker said Warnock, who is pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, should not claim to have Christian ethics while implying that Walker does not.
“He said I was a liar. I said, ‘No, Senator, you’re a liar,'” said Walker, who makes faith a major part of his speech. “You went to Washington saying you were going to represent Georgia and you decided to represent Joe Biden.”
Walker also dismissed Biden’s speech Wednesday that warned of threats to democracy. “His presence in Washington is the biggest threat to democracy,” Walker said of Biden. “The biggest threat to democracy is that Sen. Warnock in Washington and represents the great people of Georgia. He is a big threat.”
Walker has not taken questions from reporters and has not been open to the media since the second abortion allegation, another point Warnock sought to capitalize on ahead of Tuesday.
“There’s nothing stopping him from standing in front of the microphone like I’m standing now,” Warnock told reporters. “The people of Georgia deserve to know what kind of man he is, what kind of person he is?”
More than 2.5 million Georgia voters cast early ballots, about 20 percent more than the number who voted early for the 2018 midterms.