Five Republican U.S. Senate candidates attacked frontrunner Herschel Walker Tuesday night for refusing to participate in a televised debate aired statewide by Georgia Public Broadcasting Tuesday.

“This is pathetic,” said Latham Saddler, an Atlanta banking executive and former Navy SEAL officer, pointing at an empty podium placed on the stage.

“I’ve shown up every time I was asked,” added Jonathan McColumn, a retired brigadier general from Warner Robins. “The absence of Herschel Walker today speaks volumes.”

But the strongest criticism hurled against Walker, the University of Georgia football great who is holding what appears to be an insurmountable lead in the polls, came from Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black. He pointed to Walker’s record of “domestic violence, despicable business dealings and a bloated resume” as proof Walker cannot defeat Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“He will not win in November,” Black said. “Selecting someone with a record to defeat Raphael Warnock in November should be priority number one.”

All five candidates looking to pull an upset in the May 24 GOP primary welcomed news that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand. While a ruling isn’t expected until next month, a draft of a decision was leaked to the news media on Monday.

“I don’t understand what a pro-choice pastor is,” said U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and small business owner Kelvin King of Atlanta, a slam at the pro-choice Warnock, who serves as senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

But the candidates disagreed on a volatile question for Republicans looking to win a GOP primary: whether the 2020 election in Georgia was rigged.

Black said he was disturbed by then-President Donald Trump asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January of last year to “find” enough votes to put Trump over the top against Democrat Joe Biden.

“Public officials have a sworn oath to uphold the Constitution,” Black said. “I’m troubled when we don’t trust the system.”

“Follow the rules and follow the law,” McColumn added.

Black went on to say he believes election reforms the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed last year will help reduce the chances of future election fraud.

Former state Rep. Josh Clark of Suwanee said the 2020 election was stolen in Georgia. He pointed to the more-than 7 million absentee ballot applications the state mailed out that year, which he said led to “massive ballot harvesting.”

“I know there were improprieties in our election,” King added. “I can’t tell to what degree.”

Saddler suggested going back to paper ballots and in-person voting would restore public trust in elections.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams

Dave Williams is Capitol Beat bureau chief.

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