Warnock Hammers Walker in Senate Debate, Gesturing to an Empty Lectern

ATLANTA — Herschel Walker was not onstage on Sunday night for Georgia’s second U.S. Senate debate. But he was one of its main topics anyway.

Senator Raphael Warnock, the incumbent and a Democrat, excoriated his Republican opponent, Mr. Walker, who chose not to attend the debate, arguing that Mr. Walker’s history of domestic violence, lies about his past and refusal to participate in the forum made him unqualified for office.

Throughout the hourlong matchup in Atlanta, Mr. Warnock stepped out of character, opting for direct attack lines over the thinly veiled criticisms he has leveled at Mr. Walker for most of the campaign. He answered panelists’ questions with a mix of policy points and full-throated rebukes of Mr. Walker’s claims about his personal life, business prowess and academic record. He described Mr. Walker’s “well-documented history of violence” in reference to reports about Mr. Walker’s domestic violence against his ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, calling them “disturbing.”

The Senate race’s lesser-known contender, the Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver, did participate in the debate, bringing up policy points like supporting L.G.B.T.Q. rights and keeping the government out of health care and energy investments. He found common ground with Mr. Warnock as both hammered their opponent for his absence from the debate stage.

“This race is about who’s ready to represent the people of Georgia in the U.S. Senate,” Mr. Warnock said as he pointed to an empty lectern meant for Mr. Walker, a former football star. “And by not showing up tonight for the job interview, by giving nonsensical answers about his history of violence, Herschel Walker shows he’s not ready.”

Before the debate, Mr. Walker’s campaign issued a statement calling it a “one-sided sham” that would be more favorable to Mr. Warnock.

Mr. Warnock’s debate performance on Sunday represents one of his most forceful criticisms of his opponent yet. The Democratic senator has not openly condemned Mr. Walker on the campaign trail, even as damaging reports about him have regularly trickled in. Mr. Warnock did not weigh in immediately after stories surfaced about Mr. Walker’s exaggerated professional success, his fathering of children he did not previously disclose and his ex-girlfriend’s claim that he paid for her to have an abortion despite his endorsement of a no-exceptions ban on the procedure.

Mr. Warnock has usually saved his fire for the airwaves, where he and several Democratic groups have spent millions of dollars on anti-Walker messaging. But on Sunday, he brought that message to the debate stage, taking time to list Mr. Walker’s falsehoods toward the end of the forum.

Mr. Warnock said of Mr. Walker: “He said that he graduated from college. He didn’t. He said that he was valedictorian of his class. He wasn’t. He said that he started a business that doesn’t even exist. And the other night when I said he pretended to be a police officer, he presented a badge as if that were proof that he really is a police officer. And now he wants us to think that he’s a senator.”

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