This year’s midterms saw many high-profile candidates take to the debate stage to treat viewers to substantive conversations on policy and social issues — as well as plenty of barbs, stunts and gaffes.
This year’s midterms bucked tradition, with many major candidates — both Republicans and Democrats — opting against participating in a debate.
Many races, including key Senate contests in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona, only had one debate. On other occasions, candidates like Arizona gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs (D) and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano (R) refused to participate in any debates.
Even so, there were several debate moments this year that left a lasting impression on viewers. Here are the seven most memorable moments from the midterm debates.
Walker flashes ‘prop’ badge
Walker flashes a police badge as he speak to supporters during a campaign rally in Atlanta.
Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker pulled out an honorary police badge during the key Senate race’s debate in mid-October, earning him a scolding from the moderator.
Prior to running for Senate, Walker claimed that he worked in law enforcement, despite no evidence existing to support such a claim.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock (Ga.) took aim at Walker’s assertions during a question about crime and policing at the Oct. 14 debate, noting that he has “never pretended to be a police officer.”
In response, Walker flashed the police badge — which his campaign later explained was a gift from the Cobb County sheriff’s department — and said he had “worked with many police officers.”
The debate’s moderator scolded Walker for violating debate rules by using a “prop,” noting that he was “well aware of the rules.” However, Walker seemed to double down on his previous claims of law enforcement work, saying, “It’s not a prop. This is real.”
In an interview several days later, Walker again said it was a “real badge” and that he carried it with him “all the time.” However, he eventually admitted that it was “honorary,” and he did not have arresting powers.
Walker’s campaign attempted to play off the stunt, announcing that it was ordering 1,000 imitation badges to distribute at a fundraiser to show the Republican candidate’s support for law enforcement.
DeSantis dodges 2024 question
DeSantis speaks during a televised debate against Democratic opponent Charlie Crist, at Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely considered one of the leading Republican contenders for president in 2024, repeatedly dodged a question from his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist at last week’s debate on whether he plans to run for office in 2024 or finish a full second term as governor.
“You talk about Joe Biden a lot,” Crist said. “I understand. You think you’re going to be running against him. I can see how you might get confused. But you’re running for governor … Why don’t you look in the eyes of the people of the state of Florida and say to them, if you’re reelected, you will serve a full four-year term as governor.”
DeSantis remained silent with a straight face as the debate moderator stepped in and noted that they “did not agree on the candidates asking each other questions.”
The Florida governor ignored the 2024 question and instead opted for a jab at Crist.
“Well listen, I know Charlie’s interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden, but I just want to make things very, very clear,” DeSantis said. “The only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”
Crist again addressed the question at a later point in the debate. Once more, DeSantis refused to respond.
Fetterman says he’s ‘always supported’ fracking
Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman speaks at a campaign rally with President Joe Biden.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) had an overall rocky performance at the first and only debate of the Pennsylvania Senate race last week. However, he particularly seemed to stumble in his response to a question about fracking.
While Fetterman previously said in a 2018 interview that he didn’t support fracking “at all” and “never” has, the debate’s moderator noted that the Democratic candidate had flipped on the issue in recent statements.
“I’ve always supported fracking,” Fetterman said in response. When pressed to reconcile his remarks with the previous comments, Fetterman simply doubled down, saying, “I do support fracking … I support fracking and I stand and I do support fracking.”
Fetterman later attempted to clarify his position in an interview on CNN, explaining that “all of the reservations that I had with fracking were all about the environmental concerns, and Pennsylvania passed some of the strongest environmental regulations.”
However, CNN’s Don Lemon noted that the new state laws went into effect in 2016, prior to Fetterman’s 2018 fracking remarks.
Oz says ‘women, doctors, local political leaders’ should decide abortion
Oz addresses an election rally in Latrobe, Pa. before former President Donald Trump speaks.
Fetterman’s Republican opponent Mehmet Oz also suffered a gaffe on the debate stage last week, with his remark that “women, doctors [and] local political leaders” should make decisions about abortions.
“There should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions,” Oz said. “As a physician, I’ve been in the room when there’s some difficult conversations happening. I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all.”
“I want women, doctors, local political leaders — letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves,” he added.
Oz’s remarks left many confused as to what role he thought local political leaders should play in the abortion issue. Fetterman’s campaign later seized on the remarks, cutting an ad that highlighted them amid concern over the fallout of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The Republican candidate has tried to separate himself from recent efforts to pass a national abortion ban, like the one proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that Oz declined to back.
Lee waves pocket Constitution amid fiery exchange over Jan. 6
Lee holds his pocket Constitution of the United States during a televised debate with his independent challenger Evan McMullin in Orem, Utah.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) brought out his pocket Constitution while defending his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, a move that his Independent challenger Evan McMullin denounced as using the historical document as a “prop.”
After McMullin accused Lee of playing a role in the violence that unfolded at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the incumbent senator pulled out his pocket Constitution as he rejected the allegations.
“This document written by the hands of wise men raised up by God to that very purpose — I followed it, I studied it, and I defended it to a T,” Lee said, holding up the booklet. “For you to suggest otherwise looks right in the face of truth and in the face of the Constitution.”
However, McMullin criticized his opponent for the move.
“Sen. Lee, the Constitution is not a prop for you to wave about and then when it’s convenient for your pursuit of power to abandon without a thought,” the Independent said.
Lee responded, arguing that he doesn’t carry the mini copy of the Constitution as a prop and instead calling it a “reference manual.”
Masters says Biden was legitimately elected
Masters speaks at a Save America rally in Prescott, Ariz.
Arizona GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters — a Trump-endorsed candidate that has echoed the former president’s unsubstantiated claims of a stolen election — acknowledged that President Biden was legitimately elected at the sole debate of the race in October.
“Joe Biden’s absolutely the president. I mean, my gosh, have you seen the gas prices recently?” Masters said. “I’m not trying to trick you. He’s duly sworn and certified. He’s the legitimate president. He’s in the White House, unfortunately for us.”
The GOP candidate also said he has not seen evidence of fraud in vote counting or election results.
Instead, Masters suggested, without evidence, that the FBI forced the media and major technology companies to censor information before the 2020 election that could have impacted voters’ choices. If this had not occurred, Masters said he suspected Trump “would be in the White House today.”
Masters received a phone call from Trump after the debate, captured in a Fox News documentary released last month. The former president urged the Republican candidate to go harder on claims of election fraud, noting Masters’ “bad election answer” in the debate.
“You’ll lose if you go soft,” Trump warned on the call. “You’re gonna lose that base.”
Oklahoma governor challenged over state’s crime statistics
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin State addresses a campaign rally in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) laughed at his Democratic opponent Joy Hofmeister during a late October debate when she noted that Oklahoma’s violent crime statistics are worse than Democratic-led states.
“So, let’s talk about the facts,” Hofmeister said. “The fact is the rates of violent crime are higher in Oklahoma under your watch than in New York and California. That’s a fact.”
“That’s not true. That’s not true,” Stitt said, interrupting his opponent twice. He then cut Hofmeister off again to pose a question to the audience.
“Hang on, Oklahomans,” he said, laughing. “Do you believe we have higher crime than New York or California? That’s what she just said.”
However, Hofmeister’s claim was later proven accurate. The FBI’s crime database showed that Oklahoma had higher violent crime rates than both New York and California in 2020.