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The bloodiest battle of the US elections pits a pastor and an anti-abortionist accused of paying for an abortion in Georgia | International

Georgia was crucial in the victory of Joe Biden in 2020, and the State is expected to repeat itself as the scenario in which the Democratic Party is gambling its future all or nothing in the legislative elections on November 8, in which the control of the two chambers is settled. There are 25 days left before the appointment at the polls, and the Democrats would sign what some polls suggest: lose Congress and retain the slim advantage they have in the Senate, which is now divided exactly in half. It is much more than they expected before the summer, after all. The options that these forecasts are fulfilled passed on Friday night through the charming southern city of Savannah, where the two candidates for the Senate faced each other in what everything indicates will be the only debate of the bloodiest and most decisive campaign of this cycle. electoral.

On the right, the Republican boxer was Herschel Walker, American football hero, a running back of legend whose varsity and NFL sports glories are the only thing from his past that seems intact after months of media scrutiny. He boasted of a military career that never was, he lied about his work at the head of six hospitals, he pretended to be a family man and along the way accusations of mistreatment by his ex-wife resurfaced, and he had to admit the existence of three children with three women different, which had to be added to a fourth, the firstborn, a young influencer conservative that a couple of weeks ago exploded before his 285,000 followers on Twitter against the “lies” of his father.

But, above all, he is haunted by the allegations of an ex-girlfriend who, according to her testimony, paid for an abortion and tried to pay for a second one (which she rejected that time). At first, Walker flatly denied everything, and then he backed down on the part in which he claimed that he did not know that person: it turns out that she is the mother of one of her children. We all have a past, yes, but it is that Walker, who again denied the facts during the debate on Friday, supports the total prohibition of abortion, even in cases of incest, rape or danger to the health of the mother. It is seen that there is another exception that he would admit: his own.

To the left of the ring appeared the senator to be beaten, Democrat Raphael Warnock, a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, from whose pulpit Martin Luther King preached. He has held the position since the beginning of 2021, when he became the first African American to represent his State, and aspires to revalidate it for six years. He also faces accusations of sexist violence: his ex-wife, Ouleye Ndoye, says that she ran over his foot with the car, but the senator was not charged with any crime. Ndoye also says that he “is a great actor” and that he has neglected his obligations in joint custody of his two children.

Warnock played at home. He was born 53 years ago in Savannah, and so he made it clear at the start of a fast and messy debate whose television broadcast took on national significance. “I am pleased to return; I grew up in a family of 12 siblings in a boarding house a mile from here,” he said. “Here” was the elegant hotel overlooking the Savannah River where the face-to-face meeting was held, at whose doors supporters of both candidates were summoned with their cries crossed. “This is what democracy looks like!” chanted Warnock’s mostly black fans. On the sidewalk in front, the Walkers, almost all white, said: “Run, Herschel, run!”, which no, it was not a tribute to the title of the novel that opened the cycle of John Updike’s unforgettable Rabbit Armstrong. , but to the phrase that a well-known sports commentator repeated when the young Walker caught the ball and launched himself to the cheers towards the opposite field.

Precisely because of playing at home and because of his reverend experience in the art of oratory, almost all analysts were confident that Warnock would easily win the debate. They did not count on the time (“weeks”, sources from the Republican Party explained) that Walker, who defined himself in September before the press and half jokingly as “not a particularly brilliant man”, had dedicated to preparing Friday night, in the one that was more aggressive than its opponent.

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Polls gave the former a slight margin over the latter (from 52 to 45%, according to Quinnipiac University). It is not yet clear what will influence the result of the even debate, although the first analysts predicted that the former athlete had managed to appeal to the most moderate republicanism. “He has hit a home run,” said Ralph Reed, a consultant for Walker’s campaign, at the end of the meeting. “He has shown himself to be an informed and forthright candidate, with great familiarity with the issues. We want to thank the media for helping to keep expectations so low.”

Neither of the two opponents attended the press, but at least the Republican sent a couple of his acolytes (in addition to Reed, the congressman for the first district of Georgia, Buddy Carter, who is also playing for the position). The feeling that the Democratic candidate had lost the opportunity to consolidate his advantage in the only face-to-face event was underlined by the fact that no one came out to give explanations on his behalf after the debate.

Walker based his attacks on associating Warnock with the policies of Joe Biden, with whom, he said time and time again, he had aligned “in 96% of his votes” in the Senate. Republicans blame the US president for almost all the problems plaguing the country (from crime rates to the border crisis), but above all, one: inflation. “For those of you who are worried about giving me your vote because I am not a politician, I ask you to think about the damage that politicians like Joe Biden and Raphael Warnock have done to this country,” Walker said. “This dispute is not about me, but about what these two have done to you and your families.”

Warnock did not deny the president (he even defended some of his policies, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, or student loans), but he avoided commenting on whether he should run for re-election. “Don’t ask me about 2024,” he begged. “The people of Georgia can decide who will be their senator in three days.” On Monday, the polls open in the State for early voting.

The Republican, at least, did not deny the 2020 Democratic victory. “President Biden won, and Senator Warnock won. Those are the reasons that decided me to apply,” he maintained. It is not clear how those comments made his “friend of his” Donald Trump feel, whose support was decisive in the primaries that boosted Walker’s candidacy, and who still maintains without evidence that those elections were stolen from him. The moderators, who led the discussion with a firm hand and who at times seemed favorable to the Republican, asked if they planned to respect the result of the polls in November. And both answered without hesitation that they would.

Beyond the scandal over the abortion allegedly paid for by Walker, facts that he again flatly denied, the right to decide of women is, after its repeal by the Supreme Court, one of the great issues of the campaign, and also occupied a prominent place in the debate. “I’m Christian. I believe in life. Georgia is a state that respects life and I will be a senator that protects life,” said Walker, who defended Georgia’s current “heartbeat law,” which sets the limit at which the fetus begins to register vital signs. to terminate a pregnancy (which, in practice, amounts to prohibiting it).

Warnock, for his part, defended himself against the apparent contradiction, which, for his detractors, involves being a priest and supporting abortion, advocated letting mothers decide, and was concerned about the high mortality in childbirth, whose rates in United States are higher than in any developed country and affects African Americans much more. “A patient’s room is too small for a woman, her doctor, and the United States government to occupy… I respect a woman’s right to make a choice. These are medical and deeply personal decisions. I trust women more than politicians, he added.

The strangest moment of the night came when Walker brought up allegations that Warnock’s church in Atlanta evicted tenants from some of the apartments it owns. He said that his opponent “has a problem with the truth.” And he added: “At least I never pretended to be an agent,” referring to a public event in which Walker, in effect, boasted of a non-existent police past. The Republican then produced an apparently fake plaque, and the moderators cracked down on him vigorously.

Walker, author of a book in which he confessed his mental health problems (he suffers from “multiple personality disorder”), often resorts to those problems when he is caught in a resignation. On Friday he said they were old news. “There is no treatment for something like that. I talk to my priests. And I don’t need help. I am doing it right. I feel prepared to be a leader. I’m ready to vote [en el Senado] by the voters of Georgia.”

Are those voters prepared to support a candidate beset by lies? The journalist Greg Bluestein, author of the reference book on these elections, flipped (Turned Around, whose subtitle reads: How Georgia Went Purple and Broke the Republican Monopoly on Power), considers those to be divided into three: “Those who don’t believe the accusations at all or think they are petty sins of the past; who believe them but will vote for him because they would never, ever support a Democrat; and who have serious moral problems with the stories that are coming out and remain undecided. Walker wanted to conquer the latter this Friday in the charming Savannah.

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