Georgia Republicans distance themselves from Herschel Walker after abortion report

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Top Georgia Republicans are distancing themselves from Herschel Walker in the aftermath of a report that the U.S. Senate nominee paid his girlfriend to have an abortion in 2009 and explosive accusations from his adult son calling his father a liar and charlatan.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s office issued a statement Tuesday backing the Republican ticket after a cascade of revelations threatened Walker’s bid. But he stopped short of specifically pledging his support for the former football star.

“As he has said repeatedly throughout this campaign, the governor is laser-focused on sharing his record of results and vision for his second term with hardworking Georgians,” spokesman Cody Hall said, adding that Kemp is focused on raising cash for “ground game and voter turnout operation.”

And Attorney General Chris Carr would not say whether he continues to back Walker’s campaign, instead taking a shot at Kemp’s opponent, Stacey Abrams, without answering a question about the Republican Senate nominee.

“I will answer your question about Herschel as soon as you ask every statewide Democrat candidate whether they still stand by Stacey Abrams’ false voter suppression claims that were entirely rejected by a federal judge,” Carr said.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

It was the latest fallout after a one-two punch on Monday of a Daily Beast story that accused Walker of paying for the abortion despite his support for a “total ban” on the procedure. Shortly after the report was published, his 23-year-old son leveled a series of stunning and emotional attacks on his father’s candidacy.

National Republicans, meanwhile, have reinforced their support for Walker. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and other influential groups have issued statements backing the candidate and maligning media coverage of the fallout, mindful that winning Georgia is one of the party’s only chances of flipping the Senate.

”We are full speed ahead in Georgia,” said Steven Law of the Senate Leadership Fund, the well-financed group aligned with GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. “This election is about the future of the country — Herschel Walker will make things better, Raphael Warnock is making it worse. Anything else is a distraction.”

Some conservative figures in Georgia are privately despondent about Walker’s chances of defeating U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in a November race that could determine control of the chamber. Others are venting publicly about Walker’s woes.

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson said the fallout is “probably a KO” for Walker’s chances. Nicole Rodden, a former Republican U.S. House contender, blamed party leaders for backing a candidate who has “cost the GOP the U.S. Senate for a second time.”

“Even the most staunch Republicans are rattled,” GOP Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said on CNN on Wednesday. “Every Republican knew that there was baggage out there, but the weight of that baggage is starting to feel a little closer to unbearable at this point.”

Walker has condemned The Daily Beast report as a “flat-out lie” and said on Fox News that he “never asked anyone to get an abortion, I never paid for an abortion.” His attorney has pledged to file a defamation lawsuit against the publication, which stands by the story.

Key Republicans were already keeping Walker at arm’s length before the damaging revelations, stung by a barrage of reports documenting the former football star’s history of violent behavior, pattern of lies and blunders on the campaign trail.

In an interview Monday, before The Daily Beast published its story, Kemp wouldn’t commit to campaigning with Walker. He said he’s focused on raising an “unprecedented amount of money” and building a network of canvassers and activists to keep up with Abrams’ grassroots operation.

“I fully realize what we’re doing on the ground helps our whole ticket. And I’m not doing this just for me,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, adding: “It’s also going to help Herschel. And that’s what my focus is going to continue to stay on.”

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

He also cited scheduling conflicts for the lack of a joint appearance, saying that holding events with other top candidates “is extremely hard” as November nears.

“And I saw that firsthand when Gov. Deal was running for reelection and David Perdue was on the ballot,” he said of the 2014 campaign, the last time the state had races for governor and the U.S. Senate on the same ballot.

The governor and Walker haven’t campaigned publicly together, though they’ve appeared at the same events. The two have never been particularly close. Walker lamented he was “mad” at both the governor and his GOP primary rival, Perdue. He later wouldn’t say whether he even voted for Kemp.

And both have different stances on abortion restrictions, immigration policy, the falsehoods surrounding the 2020 election and — perhaps most importantly — former President Donald Trump.

Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, said at a forum in Forest Park that he didn’t expect Walker’s fallout to bog down the rest of the ticket.

”The governor is doing very well and I think he’s going to win, and I think he carries a lot of weight. Obviously, he’s top of the ticket,” Jones told reporters. “So, I think he’ll carry the most weight on the ticket.”

Others are forcefully embracing their party’s candidate, emphasizing his support for conservative policies and Warnock’s record voting for legislation backed by President Joe Biden, whose approval rating in Georgia has plummeted since he captured the state in 2020.

“Democrats and those on the left now seeing little hope for defeating the governor and statewide elected Republicans, have focused their sights on Walker,” said Scott Johnson, a GOP activist and former state party official.

“But Republicans I know are standing with Herschel and against the failed Democrat polices represented by Raphael Warnock.”

- Staff writer Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this report.