Growing questions about U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker’s credibility threaten his campaign at a time when Republicans want nothing more than to talk about high inflation and economic uncertainty.
Walker’s exaggerations and false statements about his business background, academic record and family dogged him even before he launched his campaign. That’s only intensified with the race in full swing. Now he’s confronted with a report that even his own aides don’t trust him.
The Daily Beast obtained emails and texts that outlined how Walker’s advisers don’t believe the candidate and worry that he isn’t “mentally fit for the job.” One anonymous staffer told the left-leaning outlet that the former football star spouts falsehoods “like he’s breathing.”
Allies to Walker confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Republican wasn’t forthright about the number of children he fathered, leading to days of revelations about previously unacknowledged children that undercut his criticism of absentee dads.
Walker’s top aide, Scott Paradise, called the report “pure gossip” and said the Republican’s team is “100% committed” to his bid.
The reports add to a troubling portrait of Walker that already contains a tableau of controversial statements, campaign blunders and flat-out falsehoods in a race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock that could decide control of the chamber.
Among them: Walker has falsely claimed that he worked in law enforcement, asserted that he graduated from college when he has not, exaggerated his business record and made bizarre statements promoting a phony coronavirus cure and questioning the science that underpins the theory of evolution.
Warnock’s campaign has tried to make sure those falsehoods and misstatements come back to haunt him, including airing a June ad that replays Walker’s false claim in 2020 that he had a mist that would “kill any COVID on your body, EPA-FDA approved.”
It should translate into a boost for Warnock. But even some Democrats are skeptical the mounting attention on Walker’s controversies will realign a race that could center on President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy and the U.S. Supreme Court’s momentous decisions on abortion and gun rights.
“There’s a hard core of voters that are immovable. The battle in this campaign isn’t over flipping voters. The battle is over mobilizing voters,” said Fred Hicks, a veteran Democratic strategist.
“And the concern for both candidates,” he said, “is about how many people are going to vote in the governor’s race and skip the Senate one — or just stay home.”
‘Time will tell’
Walker and his campaign went largely untested during a Republican primary against lesser-known rivals, coasting to victory thanks to sky-high name recognition and support from a disparate coalition that included former President Donald Trump and establishment GOP figures.
His comfortable victory came despite a flurry of reports about his violent history, erratic behavior and campaign missteps that his top rivals tried to amplify. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, the GOP runner-up, even told the AJC that he wouldn’t vote for Walker because his record is “disqualifying.”
Walker, who has avoided laying out many policy specifics, has tried to shift the narrative toward Biden’s policies. He recently released a digital ad that ends with a flash of bold letters on screen: “If this campaign is about the issues, Warnock will lose.”
But Republican veterans are edgy about whether the tactic will work, particularly as revelations that puncture Walker’s image. Some view their vote as a ballot for Republican control of the evenly divided Senate — and not for Walker.
“Never has there been a candidate who was more emblematic of how politics has become a ‘team sport’ than Herschel,” said Jay Morgan, a former Georgia GOP executive director.
Democrats, he added, are “desperately” aiming to focus the race on Walker’s mounting credibility problems rather than focus on Biden, whose approval ratings have nose-dived in Georgia since his 2020 victory.
“Warnock is known to many voters as Biden’s proxy at this point,” said Morgan, who is now a lobbyist. “Time will tell.”
Ralph Reed, the founder of the Georgia-based Faith and Freedom Coalition and a staunch Walker ally, predicted the race will center on high gas prices, inflation and violent crime — not on “personal attacks.”
“Elections are about the future of voters,” he said, “not the personal past of candidates.”
‘The real test’
Walker’s credibility problems also could influence donors. The Daily Beast reported that Republican megadonor Bernie Marcus is skeptical about digging deeper into his wallet to support Walker. (A Marcus spokeswoman said he hasn’t commented on the race and doesn’t intend to do so.)
By contrast, Warnock has emerged as one of the nation’s top fundraisers.
The steady barrage of revelations surrounding Walker can all seem like a lot of partisan noise to some voters. Claire Rutledge, who lives near Cumming, said she’s heard about some of the issues swirling around Walker but doesn’t give them much credence.
”I think the media is out to get him,” she said. “He’s famous, and people like to go after famous people and their families.”
While Democrats generally have promoted each damaging revelation about Walker on social media, Warnock’s campaign has largely focused on his policy platform, which includes calls to suspend the federal gas tax, cap the price of insulin and curb prescription drug costs.
Case in point: Warnock’s campaign had no immediate comment on The Daily Beast’s report.
Marci McCarthy, a grassroots Republican organizer, has caught each report about Walker’s vulnerabilities. She’s skeptical of their impact in a race that is buffeted by national issues.
“The reality is, these reports aren’t going to matter,” said McCarthy, who chairs the DeKalb County GOP.
“You’re going to hear some of the nastiest, deepest secrets in a race that can affect control of the Senate. But at the end of the day, Democrats will vote for Warnock and Republicans will stick with Walker,” she said. “The real test is how candidates resonate with the middle.”