Walker firestorm upends Georgia Senate race
A new report alleging that former football star Herschel Walker paid for his then-girlfriend to have an abortion more than a decade ago is upending the Senate race in Georgia, worsening Republicans’ concerns about Walker’s chances of ousting Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).
Walker vociferously denied the accusations outlined in a story from The Daily Beast on Monday night and threatened to sue the outlet. Still, the report, which has not been confirmed by The Hill, added to the media firestorm facing Walker in the final stretch before Election Day, a time when polls show a tightening race between him and Warnock.
“I’ve been saying that this thing was going to be Walker’s to lose and the only exception would be some sort of catastrophe,” one Georgia Republican strategist said. “And I think without the right response, this could end up being that catastrophe.”
The stakes of the Senate race are clear: Republicans need to net just one seat in the upper chamber to recapture a majority, and Georgia stands as one of their best opportunities to do that. And while Warnock has a massive financial advantage, recent polls have shown Walker closing the gap following an effort to revamp his campaign after a summer of gaffes and missteps.
It’s not the first controversy to dog Walker as a candidate. Since launching his campaign last year, the former NFL running back has faced questions about his business record and personal life, including allegations of domestic violence and the revelation that he fathered three children that he had not previously mentioned publicly.
Yet the latest accusation that he paid for his now-ex-girlfriend’s abortion in 2009 could prove particularly damaging, especially with Election Day little more than a month away.
Walker has made his opposition to abortion a central pillar of his campaign, saying repeatedly that he supports banning the procedure without exceptions. That position has taken on even more weight in the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a decision that gave Democrats a burst of momentum and put many Republican candidates on the defensive.
Walker’s campaign did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on this story. Multiple Republican strategists and operatives acknowledged that the latest allegations facing Walker were an unwanted distraction at a critical moment in the Senate race but urged him to put the matter to rest quickly and go back on the offensive against Warnock.
One Republican operative involved in the midterm elections acknowledged that The Daily Beast’s report is “going to hijack the news cycle for a couple days,” but expressed skepticism that the story would ultimately affect the trajectory of the race. Still, the operative said, it’s not an ideal situation for Walker.
“It’s obviously a distraction that will prevent him from remaining focused on a forward-looking message about what he would do in office,” the operative said. “But I think it is still unknown whether or not this will matter after everything else they’ve heard about Herschel Walker.”
It’s too soon to know for sure how the allegations will affect Walker’s prospects in November. Top national Republican groups — including the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — have so far indicated that they’re sticking behind him.
Chris Hartline, the NRSC’s communications director, accused Democrats and the media of trying to distract from key issues in the final month before Election Day.
“Democrats and the media have tried to stir up nonsense about what has or hasn’t happened in Herschel Walker’s past because they want to distract from what’s happening in the present,” Hartline said.
“Right now, Senator Warnock votes with Joe Biden 96% of the time, causing skyrocketing inflation, a raging border crisis, and crime in Georgia communities. Georgians can see through the nonsense from the Democrats and the media and will vote accordingly.”
Then there’s former President Trump, the Republican kingmaker who endorsed Walker early on in the GOP Senate primary. Trump issued a statement on Tuesday defending Walker against the allegations and accusing Democrats and the media of “trying to destroy a man who has true greatness in his future, just as he had athletic greatness in his past.”
Walker himself also appears poised to fight the allegations. When asked during a Monday night interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity about a reported $700 payment Walker made as a reimbursement for the alleged abortion, he brushed it off as unremarkable, saying he sends “money to a lot of people.”
“I never asked anyone to get an abortion, I never paid for an abortion,” Walker said.
But others warned that Walker could be in real trouble, especially if he fails to mount an effective response. Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host in Georgia, said in a blog post published on Tuesday that Walker needs to shut down the allegations quickly and refocus the race on crime, the economy and inflation if he wants to make it through the finish line.
While the political environment favors Republicans this year, Erickson said, a victory isn’t guaranteed. He pointed to the 2017 special Senate election in deep-red Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones defeated his Republican opponent, Roy Moore, after Moore ran up against sexual misconduct allegations.
“A month ago, I thought Walker was a sure thing,” Erickson wrote. “Now, I think he is less likely to win unless he mounts an immediate response. Georgia is not a deeply red state, and even Alabama elected Doug Jones instead of Roy Moore.”
Perhaps worsening the damage for Walker was his adult son, Christian Walker, a conservative social media influencer who accused his father on Monday of abusive behavior and claimed that his family had urged him not to run for public office because of his turbulent past.
“Every family member of Herschel Walker asked him not to run for office, because we all knew (some of) his past. Every single one,” Christian Walker tweeted after The Daily Beast’s story was published. “He decided to give us the middle finger and air out all of his dirty laundry in public, while simultaneously lying about it. I’m done.”
Herschel Walker responded on Monday night with a tweet of his own: “I LOVE my son no matter what.”
But for some Republicans, Christian Walker’s tweets and public comments put Herschel Walker’s coming challenges in stark relief.
“That is making it much much worse for him,” the Republican operative involved in the midterms said. “It’s added insult to injury.”