Warnock Hammers Walker in the Senate debate, pointing to an empty desk

ATLANTA — Herschel Walker was not on stage Sunday night for the second U.S. Senate debate in Georgia. But he was one of her main subjects 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 the refusal to participate in the forum made him unfit for office.

Throughout the hour-long game in Atlanta, Mr. Warnock stepped out of character, opting for direct lines of attack instead of the thinly veiled criticism he leveled at Mr. Walker for most of countryside. He responded to panelists’ questions with a mixture of political 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 of Mr Walker’s domestic violence against his ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, calling it ‘disturbing’.

The lesser-known candidate in the Senate race, Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver, joined in the debate, bringing up political points such as support for LGBTQ rights and keeping the government away from investments in health care and energy. He found common ground with Mr Warnock as both hammered their opponent for his absence from the debate stage.

“This race is about who is ready to represent the people of Georgia in the US Senate,” Mr. Warnock said, pointing to an empty desk aimed at Mr. Walker, a former soccer star. “And by not showing up for the job interview tonight, by giving nonsense answers about his history of violence, Herschel Walker shows he’s not ready.”

Ahead of the debate, Mr Walker’s campaign released a statement calling it a “one-sided deception” that would be more favorable to Mr Warnock.

Mr Warnock’s debate performance on Sunday represents one of his most vocal criticisms of his opponent to date. The Democratic senator did not openly condemn Mr Walker during the election campaign, although damaging reports about him have regularly poured in. Mr Warnock did not immediately weigh in after stories surfaced of Mr Walker’s exaggerated professional success, his previously undisclosed paternity and his ex-girlfriend’s claim that he paid for that she has an abortion despite her approval of an indiscriminate ban on the procedure.

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

Mr Warnock said of Mr Walker: “He said he graduated from college. He did not do it. He said he was valedictorian of his class. He wasn’t. He said he created a company that doesn’t even exist. And the other night when I said he was impersonating a policeman, he presented a badge as if that was proof that he really was a policeman. And now he wants us to believe he’s a senator.