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Fact-checking the Georgia Senate debate between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, face off in a debate in Savannah, Ga., on Oct. 14, 2022. (Screenshot) Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, face off in a debate in Savannah, Ga., on Oct. 14, 2022. (Screenshot)

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, face off in a debate in Savannah, Ga., on Oct. 14, 2022. (Screenshot)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson October 15, 2022

In what’s expected to be the only debate of the pivotal Senate campaign in Georgia — just before the Oct. 17 start of early voting in the state — the two nominees, incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, sparred over a variety of topics.

During the hourlong debate in Savannah, Walker, an abortion opponent, pushed back against allegations that he had on two occasions urged the mother of one of his children to get an abortion and that he paid for the procedure when the woman followed through. "That’s a lie and I’m not backing down," he said.

Walker also parried an accusation from Warnock that he had pretended to be a police officer, pulling what appeared to be a law enforcement badge from his pocket before being stopped by the moderators, who said the debate’s ground rules didn’t allow "props." Previous reporting suggested that Walker had been named an "honorary deputy" in Cobb County, a position that does not come with policing power, and that he had also claimed falsely that he had been an FBI agent.

Here are a few of the other claims by the candidates, with our quick assessment of their accuracy.

Warnock: "We lead all the western nations" in maternal mortality.

This is accurate.

The United States had a higher maternal and infant mortality rate in 2020 than any western European nation belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of advanced industrialized nations. The U.S. also has a higher rate than Canada, Australia, Israel, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand.

Warnock: "Black women are three to four times more likely to die (from childbirth) even when they have the insurance and the income."

This is Mostly True.

Studies have shown this type of disparity, but without controlling for income or insurance status. We were unable to find any studies that controlled for those two factors.

However, a 2019 study found that for women who had attended college or earned a college degree — a statistic that often correlates with income and insurance coverage — the Black-white differential ranged from 3.5 to 5.2 times, which is in line with what Warnock said.

Warnock: "He says no exceptions (on abortion) even in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother."

During the debate, Walker cited his support for a law in Georgia that has exceptions for those situations. But Walker has offered a more stringent position in the past.

In May, he told reporters after a campaign event in Macon that "there’s no exception in my mind. Like I say, I believe in life. I believe in life. … You never know what a child is going to become. And I’ve seen some people, they’ve had some tough times, but I always said, ‘No matter what, tough times make tough people.’"

Walker: Warnock "voted with Biden 96% of the time."

This is accurate.

A regularly updated tally by shows Warnock voting with Biden’s position 96.4% of the time. That’s clearly a high level of support, but it ranks in the lower one-third of the Democratic caucus. Most Democrats and most Republicans tend to cluster together in their vote patterns, with few Democrats breaking with Biden and few Republicans frequently supporting Biden. 

Walker: "Right now people have coverage for health care. It’s a question of what type of health care do you want. Because if you have an able-bodied job, you’re going to have health care."

This is inaccurate.

Although millions of Americans do secure health insurance through an employer, "not all workers are offered employer-sponsored coverage or, if offered, can afford their share of the premiums," according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that studies health care policy. Overall, the foundation says, "most people who are uninsured are nonelderly adults and in working families."

According to the foundation 7.9% of families with two full-time workers are uninsured, 11.2% of families with one full-time worker are uninsured and 15.5% of families with only part-time workers are uninsured.

Walker: "I tell anyone out there suffering from any type of mental illness, ‘You can get help. All you’ve got to do is ask."

Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for lower-income Americans, does cover mental health care, as do the plans offered under the Affordable Care Act. However, uninsured Americans may have trouble accessing mental health care, at least on a continuing, rather than an emergency, basis. 

Walker: Georgians should "get off the government health care and get on the health care (Warnock's) got."

This is somewhat nonsensical.

As a member of Congress, Warnock is eligible to receive employer-sponsored coverage, but because his employer is the federal government, it is, in a sense, government health care. Congressional coverage is organized under DC Health Link, an insurance program created under the Affordable Care Act. 

Under DC Health Link, the federal government contributes up to "72% of the weighted average" of all premium plans, according to the Congressional Research Service.

EDITOR'S NOTE, Oct. 17, 2022: This article has been updated with an additional fact-check.

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Our Sources

Georgia Senate debate, video, Oct. 14, 2022

The Hill, "Walker scolded for flashing badge in middle of Georgia debate," Oct. 14, 2022

New York Times, "As he runs in the G.O.P. primary for Georgia Senate, Herschel Walker says he wants a ban on abortion with no exceptions," May 19, 2022

Washington Post, "As Herschel Walker’s GOP profile rises, the falsehoods mount," June 14, 2022 

USA Today, "Fact check: Post exaggerates benefits for members of Congress," April 22, 2022

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, "Maternal and infant mortality," accessed Oct. 14, 2022, "Does your nember of Congress vote with or against President Biden?" accessed Oct. 14, 2022

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Key Facts about the Uninsured Population," Nov. 6, 2020

GoodRx, "Does Medicaid cover therapy? A guide to mental health services and medicaid coverage," May 24, 2022

Department of Health and Human Services, "Does the Affordable Care Act cover individuals with mental health problems?" accessed Oct. 14, 2022

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