U.S. Senate debate planned in Macon has been canceled. Here’s why

A U.S. Senate debate scheduled to take place in Macon next month has been canceled, event organizers told the Telegraph.

Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism and its media partners 13WMAZ, The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting said they would not host its planned Oct. 13 event after incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver agreed to appear.

Republican challenger Herschel Walker never responded to the debate invitation, Center for Collaborative Journalism director Debbie Blankenship said in a statement.

“The event was intended to provide Central Georgia voters with access to all the candidates before the November 8th election. However, both Warnock and Walker agreed to a debate in Savannah that will be broadcast statewide on Oct. 14. Our partner Georgia Public Broadcasting will also offer voters the opportunity to see Warnock and Oliver debate before a statewide audience on Oct. 16,” she said. “In light of these other voter access opportunities, Mercer’s Center for Collaborative Journalism and its partners will not move forward with a debate hosting two of the three candidates on the ballot.”

The debate over debates in Georgia’s Senate race began in June when Warnock accepted three event invitations and invited Walker to do the same.

Instead, Walker proposed a fourth debate in Savannah hosted by Nexstar Media Group, a company that owns local TV stations in Georgia and across the country.

Over the past few weeks, Walker and his campaign have refused to respond to questions from Telegraph reporters regarding the Macon debate. In August, Walker told WMAZ that he would not attend the Macon debate.

Earlier this month, Warnock agreed to participate in the Nexstar debate, but he continued to pressure Walker to appear at a second debate in either Macon or Atlanta.

Atlanta Press Club spokesperson Lauri Strauss told the L-E that Walker has not officially accepted nor declined participation in their Atlanta debate. Walker’s invitation to the debate remains open. Both Warnock and Oliver will appear at that debate.

“This conversation shouldn’t be this difficult,” Warnock told the Ledger-Enquirer, the Telegraph’s sister paper. “(Walker) said he would debate me ‘anytime, any place.’ Those weren’t my words. Those were his words. If we can’t count on you to do what you said you would do with respect to a debate, how can we trust your word on anything else you promise?”

Walker’s campaign did not respond to questions regarding the Macon debate cancellation before publication.

Warnock said in a statement on Twitter that he was “disappointed” that the Macon debate was canceled.

“(B)ut lucky for Herschel Walker, he still has a chance to give Georgians multiple opportunities to see the choice they have in this race,” Warnock said. “We’re locked for Savannah, now will he agree to debate a second time (at the Atlanta Press Club) on October 16th?”

Oliver said in a statement on Twitter that he was “disappointed that he wouldn’t get a chance to debate Warnock in Macon.”

“I repeat my calls for Warnock and (Walker) to have me included in the debate in Savannah,” Oliver said. “Voters deserve to see ALL of the choices on stage at the same time. Herschel should have come to Macon.”

Recent projections from FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis, politics and other topics, predict that Warnock will get 49.8% of the total ballots cast while Walker will receive 48.6%. Oliver is expected to get 1.6% of the vote.

Early voting begins Oct. 17.