OPINION: Herschel Walker made a bad situation worse on the campaign trail

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker talks to the media at Battle Lumber Company in Wadley, Ga. on Thursday, October 6, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker talks to the media at Battle Lumber Company in Wadley, Ga. on Thursday, October 6, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

This is the third in a series of Campaign Postcards from the Georgia trail. Along with the earlier installments on U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Gov. Brian Kemp, it will include stops with all the major candidates and some minor ones, too.

There’s an old saying in communications that you should get your bad news out early and get it out yourself.

Herschel Walker had already gone 0-2 last week by the time he took the stage in a dusty lumberyard in Wadley, Ga., a three-hour drive from Atlanta and 3 1/2 hours after his speech was initially supposed to begin.

It was his first public event since the Daily Beast broke a blockbuster story alleging that he had paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion, even though he campaigns saying he opposes abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.

Although Walker initially denied knowing who the unnamed woman could be, a drip, drip, drip of revelations followed. The New York Times reported the woman is also one of the mothers of his four children. NBC News shared text messages between the woman and Walker’s current wife, Julie, including texts as recently as last week.

The response from Walker in Wadley needed to be not just credible, but competent. Although the GOP Senate nominee has mostly locked up conservative voters in the party, Republicans know there are hold-outs who worry about Walker’s basic ability to do the job.

What Walker offered instead was a mishmash of boyhood stories, football highlights, and biblical allegories, all delivered to a crowd of puzzled shift workers, who had been called off the job at the lumber yard to populate Walker’s event.

He never mentioned the allegations against him or his position on abortion, or even the fact that he is a candidate for the United States Senate.

“Everyone knows the glory, but they don’t know the story, and I have a story,” Walker said.

He explained that he was the kind of kid, “who wasn’t supposed to make it,” but with the help of God, became great at football.

But he really didn’t want to play football, he said, nor go to college. Once at the University of Georgia, he said he didn’t want to leave early to play professionally. With a combination of coin flips and advice from his mother, he eventually chose the path he took.

He recounted his days with the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings, joining the 1992 Olympic bobsled team, and how he started his chicken business, only to take eight months off to train for martial arts fights.

“May God bless you guys,” he said to polite applause. “Thank you for coming out.”

Walker later told the swarm of national and local reporters, “I know why you’re here. You’re here because the Democrats are desperate to hold on to this seat here.”

He also insisted that none of the stories from the Daily Beast were true and that he knew nothing about the allegations from his son, Christian, that he committed “atrocities” against his family.

“This abortion thing is false. It’s a lie. Anything that happened with my ex-wife and what Christian is talking about, I don’t know.”

If voters were looking for competence out of Walker last week, they only got chaos.

His campaign seemed mostly back on track this week when GOP Sens. Tom Cotton and Rick Scott flew in to reinforce Walker in front of an enthusiastic pack of GOP voters in Carrollton .

For reasons hard to understand given the latest headlines, Walker repeated a favorite story from the stage about a bull in a field with three pregnant cows, who was still interested in three other cows, who turn out to be bulls. “So what I’m telling you, don’t think something is better somewhere else,” he said.

But Cotton and Scott, two avowed conservatives, used their time to make it clear the only thing they care about in the Senate race is how it affects the balance of power in Washington.

Cotton told the crowd that Arkansas Razorbacks are still sore about Walker’s football prowess, but they’ve forgiven him “because they want Republicans back in charge in Washington.”

Neither he nor Scott ever mentioned the allegations against Walker, with Cotton alluding only to “all the lies they tell” on TV ads.

The two senators, both seasoned politicians, later took questions from reporters. Walker did not. “Herschel Walker has lived the dream in this country,” Scott said.

If there’s anything we know about voters, it’s that they’re capable of forgiving almost anything, especially when it comes to bad treatment of women, if a candidate gives them a path to get there.

Bill Clinton’s Oval Office affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky threatened to bring down his presidency. But after a semi-thorough apology and totally botched GOP impeachment, Clinton’s approval rating reached an astonishing 73%.

And barely one month after Donald Trump was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women where, truly, no woman wants to be grabbed by Donald Trump, he was elected president.

So it’s entirely possible that all of the allegations and evidence against Walker will not sink his candidacy, no matter how violent or shocking. But his response to them so far — denying, deflecting, and blaming Democrats, absolutely could. Any Republican voter who was waiting to see competence from Walker before is still waiting.

But nobody in Carrollton needed to hear more to support him Tuesday.

One man told me as he was leaving, “I think we’ve got two sinners to choose from. You pick the one with the best platform.”

State Sen. Mike Dugan, the Republican who represents the area in the state Legislature, said he’s with Walker and thinks the former footballer has been straightforward with voters.

When I asked if Walker has been straightforward about his four children or an abortion he may have paid for, Duggan said, “Would you expect to be asked about everything you did in the 3rd grade or the 5th grade?”

He added, “When you run for office, you expect everything you’ve ever done in your life to come out. It’s just all my skeletons are on my front porch.”

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