OPINION: Two ads with abuse accusations, two different realities

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

You can tell how high the stakes are for Georgia’s U.S. Senate race by the ferocity of two attack ads released this week.

They detail accusations of domestic abuse by both Herschel Walker and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. And while they seem similar on the surface, they’re backed up by profoundly different facts.

How voters process the information is up to them, but they at least deserve to know the realities behind the two attacks.

The first ad recounts explicit details of abuse described by Walker’s ex-wife Cindy Grossman.

It’s paid for by a Super PAC called “Georgia Honor,” an outfit created for the Georgia Senate race by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s political operation with the goal of keeping a Democratic Senate majority.

It opens with a narrator saying, “Herschel Walker has repeatedly threatened to kill his ex-wife. He held a razor to her throat and threatened to kill her.”

It also includes video of Walker in an old interview saying, “And I put a gun to her head.”

It’s a dark ad and it’s difficult to watch. It’s one of those campaign commercials that is so disturbing, you’ll likely turn the ad off or at least send young children out of the room when it comes on.

Walker has not disputed the abuse allegations made by his ex-wife, which led a judge to grant a protective order against him in 2005 and order that guns be temporarily removed from Walker’s home.

He and his ex-wife did several interviews about his abuse after he wrote a book about his mental health struggles. But he has not discussed that period of his life in detail during his Senate run.

In an interview with Axios last year, he said only, “I’m always accountable to whatever I’ve ever done. And that’s what I tell people: I’m accountable to it.”

In the same interview with Axios, Walker explained the behavior was a result of a mental illness that has been “healed,” saying he’s “better now than 99% of the people in America.”

And he denied allegations from other women, including one who told police he stalked her and another who told Texas police in 2012 that Walker threatened to “blow her head off.”

The Democratic attack on Walker this week isn’t the first, but it is the most aggressive, and it will be backed up by millions of dollars from Chuck Schumer’s Super PAC.

And it’s the reason the Walker campaign returned fire with an attack of its own, resurfacing a video following a 2020 domestic dispute between Warnock and his then-wife.

It includes clips police cam video of her telling police, “I’ve tried to keep the way that he acts under wraps for a long time.” It followed her accusing the Ebenezer pastor of running over her foot with his car after the two argued over a custody arrangement for their two young children.

This ad, too, is tough to watch. And it’s a clear effort by the Walker campaign to create an equivalency, to tell voters not to be bothered by Walker’s past abuse of his wife because Warnock has been accused of the same. But from what we know today, that’s just not the case.

Hours of the full video footage reviewed by the AJC in 2020 includes three Atlanta investigators saying they found no evidence that Warnock did anything wrong in the incident. Warnock denied his ex-wife’s accusations and told the AJC at the time, “It didn’t happen.”

Since then, he and his wife have finalized their divorce, but his custody battle may be ongoing. Court filings about it showed his ex-wife requesting additional custody and saying Warnock had left her “financially strapped.”

Later filings have been sealed after a request from Warnock and his ex-wife, which they said would protect their two young children from the kind of negative campaign publicity that’s happening at this moment.

The great irony is that while the Walker campaign and Schumer’s PAC are exchanging accusations about who did or did not abuse their wives, the issues that matter the most to Georgia women — and all Georgians really — are going completely undebated between the two.

At the top of the list of issues is abortion. This is the first election in nearly 50 years when women will go to the polls with abortion rights decided by lawmakers, instead of established and protected by Roe v. Wade.

Warnock did not mention abortion at two campaign events Wednesday, but told me later, “I’ve long been an advocate for a woman’s right to choose. And there is a stark contrast between me and my opponent on this issue and we ought to have a conversation about that.”

The contrast is real. After a “Women for Herschel” event two weeks ago, where Walker also did not raise the abortion issue, he told me, “I’m for life and I will always be for life.” Specifically, Walker has said he opposes all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

In an exchange with a British journalist after Walker was pressed on possible exceptions, he repeatedly demanded that the reporter ask Warnock about his position instead.

“One of my opponents believe in a woman should kill her baby and he’s a pastor. Have y’all asked him about that?” he said, raising his voice. “Have you asked him about, there’s a commandment that says you shalt not kill. Have you asked him that question? Have you asked him about that? Have you asked that question to him? No.”

Walker could ask Warnock that question himself if the two ever debate.

But after Warnock accepted three debate invitations and Walker committed to a different debate, the chances of voters ever seeing the two exchange ideas instead of attack ads is quickly diminishing.

In the meantime, voters should approach all of these ads with caution. Not all are from the candidates, many are misleading, and the issues being overshadowed by the attacks have never been more important.

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