Top Republicans frame vote for Walker as vote against Biden

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

CARROLLTON — U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton mocked Democrats for backing sweeping legislative packages that promise so much spending that “it would be an insult to drunken sailors.” U.S. Sen. Rick Scott pinned the blame for high inflation and “men destroying women’s sports” on Democrats.

And Herschel Walker, the beleaguered Georgia GOP U.S. Senate hopeful, drew applause Tuesday as he blasted high gas prices, “woke” policies and the prospect of transgender members of the military — familiar talking points designed to energize wavering conservatives.

“You can see what they’re doing. They’ll do whatever it takes and say whatever they have to say to take this seat right here,” Walker said to hundreds of supporters in the parking lot of a west Georgia strip mall. “But I don’t think they know that they woke up a bear.”

Not surprisingly, what wasn’t mentioned to the audience that crammed in front of Walker’s towering red campaign bus were the reports that the former football star, who has advocated for an absolute ban on abortion, paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion in 2009 and urged her to have the procedure done again about two years later.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

When pressed by reporters, Cotton and Scott both scoffed at the allegations, which Walker has denied. And the Georgia Republican didn’t take any questions from the media, busying himself nearby with a long line of supporters waiting patiently for pictures.

The event was designed to be a resounding show of support for Walker from national Republicans, who see defeating U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock as one of a dwindling number of pathways to flipping control of the Senate.

“Warnock and the Democrats want to make this about Herschel Walker’s yesterdays,” Cotton said. “Herschel Walker wants to make this about Georgia’s tomorrows.”

And Scott claimed Biden and Senate Democrats promoted an environment where the FBI is “intimidating parents when they speak up at school board meetings,” a college debt relief plan that forces “working class people to pay off loans for rich kids” and a surge of fentanyl abuse that’s “killing our children.”

The underlying message to conservative voters was undeniable: A vote for Walker is a vote for a GOP-controlled Senate — and the power to block President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies from muscling their top priorities through Congress in the next two years.

It echoes the approach from Republicans during the epic nine-week Senate runoffs after the 2020 elections, when voters were urged to swallow misgivings about Donald Trump or either of the two GOP incumbents and rally to the polls.

This time, however, national Republicans are asking voters to set aside concerns about Walker’s history of erratic and violent behavior, along with a pattern of lies and exaggerations, to check Biden’s authority.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

“Raphael Warnock, who campaigned with his puppies two years ago, has proven to be simply a lap dog for Joe Biden,” said Cotton, an Arkansas Republican seen as a potential presidential contender. “Herschel Walker will be a champion for the people of Georgia.”

Long before the abortion allegations, polls showed a share of Republicans were willing to back Warnock, support a third-party candidate or skip the contest altogether. And key Georgia Republicans have steered clear of Walker, leaving it to national figures to defend him.

“Republicans need to be honest with themselves that the race has now shifted to a referendum on the flaws and questions about our candidate,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, one of Walker’s most outspoken GOP critics. “Going forward, we have to get better about nominating candidates who can win general elections.”

Struggling

Warnock, an abortion rights supporter who hasn’t amplified the reports first published by The Daily Beast, said after an Atlanta event on Tuesday that voters will recognize “a very clear choice” between the candidates.

“Do you know what’s not close? It’s the difference between mean and my opponent,” Warnock said. “And I think that will become clearer and clearer.”

The visits coincide with a fresh round of attacks from Warnock’s allies that highlight the fallout of the abortion reports as Democrats seek to peel off more independent and swing voters.

An offshoot of the pro-Democratic Senate Majority Fund aired an ad Tuesday that invokes outspoken criticism of Walker by his son Christian following the reports. The 23-year-old accused his father of violent behavior and said he warned him against running for the seat.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

As made clear on Tuesday, Walker has his own backup. Scott is the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which recommitted its support for Walker following the allegations.

Former President Donald Trump’s super PAC booked nearly $1 million for ads attacking Warnock, adding to the barrage from both Senate candidates and their allies already inundating the airwaves.

And the pro-Walker 34N22 group resurfaced bodycam footage of a March 2020 incident of Warnock’s ex-wife claiming he ran over her foot with his car and calling him a “great actor” to investigators after he denied her allegation.

Warnock wasn’t charged with a crime, and medical officials didn’t find visible signs of injury to the foot. Warnock told the AJC in March 2020 that her allegations “didn’t happen.”

At the rally, Walker’s supporters buzzed about a new Emerson College poll that showed a neck-and-neck race. Gordon Austin, a veteran activist, acknowledged the uncertainty among some Republicans but expressed confidence Walker will steer the narrative toward high inflation and economic problems.

“The American people are struggling,” said Austin. “Democrats are desperate, so they’re going after their opponent. And most people won’t let that decide their decision. It’s going to be about the economy.”