That was on vivid display when Walker was asked whether he feared outrage from opponents of the new abortion limits could threaten Republican fortunes in November. He immediately tried to deemphasize the prospect of the anti-abortion law mobilizing Democrats.
“You’re going to bring up things that people are not concerned about. People are concerned about gas, they’re concerned about food. They’re not even talking about that. That’s not what I’m hearing about,” he said.
Pressed on whether he was suggesting people weren’t concerned about the abortion limits that took effect this week, Walker said: “I didn’t say that. I said people here are concerned about gas. I think they’re concerned about groceries. They’re concerned about the baby formula. … Why are we not talking about those?”
Walker’s comments came at a stop at Jaemor Farms, the famed agricultural attraction where just two months earlier his top GOP rival Gary Black made a last stand. The trip was designed to change the subject from mounting GOP concerns about Walker’s credibility toward a focus on agriculture.
He has faced a series of bad headlines in recent months — revelations about unacknowledged children, internal campaign turmoil, false claims that he worked in law enforcement, assertions that he graduated from college when he has not, exaggerations about his business record and bizarre statements promoting a phony coronavirus cure.
Walker is no moderate when it comes to abortion restrictions. He supports a total ban on the procedure, even in cases of rape or incest. And this week he lamented that there was no federal legislation outlawing abortion.
Still, his reluctance to put abortion restrictions at the center of his campaign this week aligns him with other Georgia Republicans.
Gas and groceries or abortion
Gov. Brian Kemp, who is running for reelection, made passing the nation’s “toughest” abortion restrictions one of his most pressing priorities after he took office in 2019 and mocked “C-list celebrities” who threatened to boycott the state after he signed the measure into law.
After a federal appeals court Wednesday allowed the law to take effect, Kemp said he was “overjoyed.” But he’s since been far more eager to promote economic development deals and bash his opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, over her public safety policies.
Other Republicans have taken a muted victory lap — if any at all. Even the law’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Ed Setzler, was reluctant to comment when pressed on whether he’d back new efforts to ensure the abortion limits are being enforced.
The reason for their restraint? Republicans want November to be a referendum on President Joe Biden, whose plunging approval ratings threaten to weigh down Georgia Democrats like an anchor.
And with polls showing that Georgia voters view the economy and high inflation as their top concern, Republicans hope to deprive Democrats of an opening to shift the political conversation in a state where even minor fluctuations in voting behavior can bring major changes.
As Republican strategist Jen Talaber Ryan put it: “A lot more Americans buy gas and groceries than get abortions.”
Credit: Arvin Temkar / AJC
Credit: Arvin Temkar / AJC
Democrats say their rivals can’t hide from the fallout. Abrams said the decision renders women “second-class citizens in Kemp’s Georgia” as she released an internal poll that projected the new law will reframe the election by motivating Democrats disgusted by its restrictions.
To drive home her argument on Friday, Abrams tweeted a video of her assailing Kemp as a self-interested politician willing to do anything to win in November with the caption: “This election is about protecting the women of Georgia.“
She and other Democrats cast the anti-abortion ruling as an economic disaster for many women that deprives them of the freedom of deciding how to build or expand their families. Charlie Bailey, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, predicted a backlash that would manifest into a surge at the polls.
“This is a culmination of 20 years of right-wing leadership in the state that attacks the ability of women to make their own decisions about their bodies,” he said at a press conference with Abrams and dozens of other prominent Democrats shortly after the law took effect.
“It was a sad day in Georgia,” he said, “but I’m ready to fight back.”