Inside Gary Black’s all-out attacks against Herschel Walker

Senate candidate Gary Black.
Caption
Senate candidate Gary Black.

Credit: AP Image

Credit: AP Image

‘I’m going to make a stand,’ Black says

It was an unconventional setting for the most scathing attacks yet in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race.

Shortly after a tour Thursday of a nonprofit center for domestic violence victims, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black proceeded to eviscerate the leading Republican contender in the contest.

Over the course of 20 minutes, Black said Herschel Walker’s history of violence was “disqualifying” and that the fate of the GOP’s 2022 midterm election hinged on whether the former football player won the nomination to face U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“I can’t recommend that anyone vote for him with a record like this,” Black said. “Herschel Walker needs to explain himself. Georgians will not tolerate an abuser of women. How can we have this as an example to our next generation, to our young people?”

Walker’s campaign dismissed the vitriol as an act of desperation from a rival on the ropes. Indeed, it has been a brutal stretch for Black since Walker entered the race in August. Former President Donald Trump, still popular with Georgia’s Republican base, has given Walker his blessing, and the former football player has taken commanding leads in fundraising and internal polls.

And this week, Black’s underdog campaign suffered another blow when a string of powerful Senate Republicans, headlined by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, endorsed Walker’s bid for office. This was a turnabout for McConnell, who had been notably skeptical of Walker’s chances.

Caption
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker has taken commanding leads over his GOP rivals in both internal polls and fundraising since entering the race in August. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

Credit: Ben Gray

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker has taken commanding leads over his GOP rivals in both internal polls and fundraising since entering the race in August. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)
Caption
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker has taken commanding leads over his GOP rivals in both internal polls and fundraising since entering the race in August. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Black has tried to take each setback in stride. His visit to the women’s center, planned for weeks, was intended to send Georgia Republicans two distinct messages. The first: He isn’t about to drop out of the race. The second: He isn’t about to go easy on Walker.

“I believe God grants mercy, but Democrats and the national media are less forgiving. They will come down on Herschel like a ton of bricks if he’s our nominee,” Black said after the event.

“We need to have this conversation now,” he said, “and Herschel needs to address these reports himself before we hand the Senate to the left on a silver platter again.”

A distinct strategy

The agriculture commissioner is by far the loudest Republican voice in Georgia raising concerns about Walker, who feels confident enough in his chances that he’s skirting many base-pleasing issues aimed at primary voters and instead trying to pursue more moderates.

Black said Walker can’t have it both ways by courting Trump supporters with vague remarks about conservative policies while also issuing platitudes about bipartisanship. And he wants an “honest conversation” about allegations of violent behavior by Walker against women, including his ex-girlfriend and ex-wife.

Democrats are poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to amplify Walker’s vulnerabilities next year, Black said, and it would be “foolish” for Republicans to postpone a thorough accounting of his background until after he’s nominated.

“I’m very interested in knowing now,” he said. “Republican primary voters want to know what they’re getting into.”

Caption
Former President Donald Trump, still popular with Georgia's Republican base, endorsed Herschel Walker in Georgia's U.S. Senate race shortly after he announced his candidacy. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Former President Donald Trump, still popular with Georgia's Republican base, endorsed Herschel Walker in Georgia's U.S. Senate race shortly after he announced his candidacy. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/TNS)
Caption
Former President Donald Trump, still popular with Georgia's Republican base, endorsed Herschel Walker in Georgia's U.S. Senate race shortly after he announced his candidacy. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

This puts Black at odds with two other GOP contenders, military veterans Kelvin King and Latham Saddler, who have studiously avoided taking a shot at Walker.

King’s campaign said it trusts voters to “thoroughly vet” the candidates on their own. Saddler said he’ll continue to focus on his differences with Warnock — and not with fellow Republicans.

“It’s my job to tell voters about my experience fighting for our nation in special operations and in the Trump White House and my conservative agenda,” said Saddler, a former Navy SEAL. “I don’t accomplish any of that by tearing down other candidates.”

By contrast, Black took swipes at Walker even before he got in the race. He has since upbraided Walker for his decades-long residency in Texas, assailed his past abstention from GOP primaries and mocked his “Biden in the basement strategy” to avoid probing questions on his policy stances.

‘Hiding’

Black’s event Thursday set an aggressive new tone. Shortly before the visit, his campaign sent a trove of documents, including police reports and court records, to dozens of media outlets detailing accusations of violent behavior by Walker. Black invoked several of them during his remarks.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that an ex-girlfriend of Walker’s told police in 2012 that when she tried to end what she said was a long romantic relationship with the football star he threatened to “blow her head off” and then kill himself.

CNN uncovered a police report from a Texas woman who had been a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader who told authorities in 2002 that Walker had threatened and stalked her.

That followed reports of allegations from Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, who obtained a protective order in 2005 after telling a judge that he had threatened to shoot her in the head.

Walker’s campaign has cited his candor about his history. He wrote a 2008 memoir that highlighted his struggle with mental illness, though some of the alleged incidents took place after he said he sought treatment. Black said he needs to reveal more details about his past before he’s anointed the GOP nominee.

”When people learn how heinous Herschel’s actions were, he loses,” Black spokesman Dan McLagan said. “The question is whether they learn it now or in the general election when it’s too late for the GOP.”

The strategy has some Republicans worried Democrats will hijack Black’s broadsides in the heat of a 2022 race that could determine control of the Senate.

C.J. Pearson, a Republican operative, called Black’s scalding attacks “offensive.” Others predicted the agriculture commissioner, known for his generally genial nature, would ultimately regret his hardball tactics.

Black, however, indicated that he won’t soon change course.

“I’m going to make a stand,” he said. “I don’t care if I’m the only one.”

Caption
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, left, has been the most aggressive of the three Republicans running against Herschel Walker in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary. He's hit Walker hard over allegations of violent behavior against women. “I can’t recommend that anyone vote for him with a record like this,” Black said. “Herschel Walker needs to explain himself. Georgians will not tolerate an abuser of women. How can we have this as an example to our next generation, to our young people?”

Credit: AJC File

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, left, has been the most aggressive of the three Republicans running against Herschel Walker in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary. He's hit Walker hard over allegations of violent behavior against women. “I can’t recommend that anyone vote for him with a record like this,” Black said. “Herschel Walker needs to explain himself. Georgians will not tolerate an abuser of women. How can we have this as an example to our next generation, to our young people?”
Caption
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, left, has been the most aggressive of the three Republicans running against Herschel Walker in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary. He's hit Walker hard over allegations of violent behavior against women. “I can’t recommend that anyone vote for him with a record like this,” Black said. “Herschel Walker needs to explain himself. Georgians will not tolerate an abuser of women. How can we have this as an example to our next generation, to our young people?”

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

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