The Jolt: Herschel Walker campaign doubles down on ‘China’s bad air floating’ comment

Herschel Walker speaks to journalists after filling out his paperwork to qualify to run for the U.S. Senate at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, Mar. 7, 2022. Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Herschel Walker speaks to journalists after filling out his paperwork to qualify to run for the U.S. Senate at the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, Mar. 7, 2022. Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Steve Schaefer

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Most political candidates wouldn’t want to prolong a negative story. But Herschel Walker’s camp thinks it sees opportunity in the aftermath of his mystifying comments over the weekend about the origins of air pollution and the coronavirus.

As your Insiders reported Monday, the Republican Senate nominee told a Hall County GOP gathering that was barred to the media that the coronavirus was “created by China” and federal efforts to clean up climate pollution are worthless because air moves.

“But since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air. So when China gets our good air, their bad air gotta move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we’ve got to clean that back up.”

That resulted in headlines like The Washington Post’s: “If Herschel Walker wins in Georgia, America will have lost its mind.”

But rather than ignoring the story, as his deputies have done after most of Walker’s previous gaffes, his aides doubled down on the comment.

Campaign manager Scott Paradise spun the comments to assert that Walker meant to say China was “primarily responsible for causing Covid and polluting the air.”

“Please ask Reverend Warnock if he disagrees,” Paradise texted us.

The idea, of course, was to put Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in a position of defending China. Here’s how Warnock spokeswoman Meredith Brasher responded instead:

“Georgia voters will have a clear choice this fall between Reverend Warnock’s extensive record of fighting to lower costs for hardworking Georgia families and Herschel Walker’s pattern of lies, exaggerations, and completely bizarre claims, all of which show he is not ready to represent Georgians in the U.S. Senate.”

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MONEYBALL. Fundraising reports rolled in at the end of last week and gave an early look at how the campaigns are taking shape now that each party’s nominees have been chosen.

We reported on Friday that Stacey Abrams had raised an astonishing $22 million between May 1 and June 30, compared to Gov. Brian Kemp, who raised about $6.8 million in the same two-month time frame.

Other statewide races revealed more contrasts, which we’ll update as more numbers are finalized.

  • In the secretary of state’s race, Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen raised $874,266 between May 1 and June 30, compared to GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who raised about $305,000. Raffensperger previously loaned his campaign about $850,000 ahead of his primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Jody Hice.
  • In the attorney general’s contest, state Sen. Jen Jordan reported raising $601,000 in the last two months, while GOP AG Chris Carr raised $577,000.

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STAFF SHAKEUP. Overshadowed in the hubbub surrounding Herschel Walker’s latest campaign headache was the relevance of the hire of Chip Lake, the veteran Georgia Republican strategist, to serve as a key deputy.

Lake is a trusted GOP hand who advised Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s successful run for Georgia’s No. 2 job before a falling-out, and later helped engineer U.S. Rep. Doug Collins’ campaign for Senate in 2020.

“He will help Herschel be better,” said Jay Morgan, a longtime GOP operative-turned-lobbyist. “People that don’t know Chip don’t understand how big this is. He makes people that don’t like each other or trust each other work together. He’s a natural leader who loves a challenge.”

One challenge waiting for Lake this fall, other than orchestrating a campaign for one of UGA’s most famous alums: Lake is an Auburn fan.

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01/11/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia State Rep. Shea Robert participates in a swearing-in with her daughter Brigid Arndt inside the House Chambers during the first day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Monday, January 11, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

01/11/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia State Rep. Shea Robert participates in a swearing-in with her daughter Brigid Arndt inside the House Chambers during the first day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Monday, January 11, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
01/11/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia State Rep. Shea Robert participates in a swearing-in with her daughter Brigid Arndt inside the House Chambers during the first day of the 2021 legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Monday, January 11, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

BACKLASH. State Rep. Shea Roberts published an op-ed piece with Fox News last week to share her personal abortion story, a decision she made after a diagnosis of a severe chromosomal disorder.

A complete abortion ban, which high-profile Georgia Republicans have advocated, would endanger the lives of women in the same position in the future, she wrote.

The Democrat said she purposely targeted her message to a conservative audience to “reach an audience who might not agree with me.”

What followed, she wrote in a memo to constituents, was “hate-filled emails” that filled her inbox within two hours of publication.

“And I’m not going to lie - their cruel words stung,” she added. “This country is tragically divided and I’m desperate to bridge that schism. If I made just one person think about how dangerous an abortion ban is for Georgia, then it was worth it.”

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TIRED TEACHERS. Rome City Schools have 55 job openings with less than two weeks before new teacher orientation begins on July 20, the Rome News Tribune reports.

Among the reasons the slots are hard to fill, according to the according the Georgia Association of Educators, are still-low pay, even after this year’s $2,000 boost, and a lack of respect for teachers’ judgement from Georgia lawmakers.

“When we as the educational experts in curriculum and instruction say, ‘these are the issues we need to deal with’ we need lawmakers to deal with those issues and not spending time... doing what feels like a further attack on public schools and educators,” said GAE president Lisa Morgan.

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LEANING IN. “Brian Kemp may talk tough, but he makes us less safe.” That’s what an ex-deputy says in the latest TV ad from Stacey Abrams’ campaign -- and the latest sign she’s escalating her criticism of Gov. Brian Kemp’s public safety policies as students ready to go back to school next month.

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JUDICIAL REVIEW. A special committee will investigate whether two federal judges, including one based in Atlanta, did anything wrong when they hired a law clerk accused of sending racist and xenophobic texts as a student, the AJC’s Bill Rankin reports.

Chief Judge Bill Pryor of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and Judge Corey Maze of the Northern District of Alabama both wanted Crystal Clanton to work for them.

Georgia U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson was among several Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee who raised concerns about the hire and amplified Clanton’s past problematic statements, which were first reported by the New Yorker in 2017.

Both judges were cleared of misconduct in January surrounding Clanton’s hire, but on Friday the Judicial Conduct and Disability Committee, composed of seven judges from across the country, said more investigation is needed. Now, a special committee will look into how the judges, both appointed by Republicans, came to hire Clanton, who has also worked for Ginni Thomas.

“I commend the U.S. Judicial Conference for reopening the investigation into the troubling appointment of an alleged racist to a prestigious judicial clerkship. Our courts must be free of even the appearance of racial bias,” Johnson, D-Lithonia, said in response to the news.

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RIGHT TO PRIVACY. Two Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation want the University of Georgia to end its involvement with a database that maps anti-abortion pregnancy centers across the country.

U.S. Reps. Jody Hice and Andrew Clyde wrote a letter to UGA President Jere W. Morehead last week about a website created by two professors at the university in 2018 identifying the locations of the centers, the AJC’s Ty Tagami writes.

Hice and Clyde appear to be responding to a Fox News report about the website. The university’s College of Public Health has said the database was created, “To promote academic research and increase public awareness” about the centers. It also condemned any threats or acts of violence.

Hice and Clyde asked UGA for “corrective action” and questioned the use of university resources on a website that notes the centers “are also known as ‘fake women’s health centers.’”

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack holds another hearing, this one focused on the role of extremist groups in supporting President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The committee is also expected to focus on the impact of the QAnon conspiracy theories on the Republican Party.
  • Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee hold a hearing on the impact of the Supreme Court decision reversing federal protections for abortion.
  • President Joe Biden will meet with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House before departing to the Middle East for several days.

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JUSTICE KBJ’S GEORGIA ROOTS. The Boston Globe over the weekend published a lengthy investigation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s genealogy compared to that of her husband, Patrick Jackson, a white man who is a descendant of an elite family.

The researchers interviewed in the article discuss the difficulty of tracing Brown Jackson’s roots because, for most of American history, enslaved people were treated as property whose heritage and personhood were not equally valued or documented.

The Globe was able to build out a portion of Brown Jackson’s family tree and found that, although she was raised in Miami, her roots extend to Ben Hill and Houston counties in Georgia.

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ANOTHER TIME. The Georgia Bulldogs’ national championship trophy was initially expected to make an appearance Monday night at an annual shrimp boil hosted by Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens’ campaign.

But the plans were scrapped by university officials, who didn’t want the title trophy featured at a political campaign function, our AJC colleague Brian Eason reports.

DeAnna Harris, an event organizer, said there was “no drama” and that the school’s concerns were understandable.

She added that the event wasn’t designed to raise money for the sheriff’s re-election either. Instead, the proceeds from the $30-a-ticket event would be donated to local charities.

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KUDOS: Our ink-stained newspaper hats are off to the staff and leadership at The Elberton Star, the weekly newspaper serving Elberton, Ga., for their publishing feat following last week’s demolition of the Georgia Guidestones.

Although the Star had already gone to print for the week, editor & publisher Rose Scroggins (a recent Grady College graduate) and her team pivoted to put out a special edition within 48 hours of the first explosion.

The result is a rich, detailed insight into the history, meaning, and local fascination with the monument, which was crafted from massive slabs of granite sourced, carved, and then erected in Elbert County.

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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