ATLANTA — Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker has weathered crises that have leveled other campaigns and still remained within striking distance of Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock thanks to relatively unshakable support from many in the GOP base.
But the one-two punch on Monday of a Daily Beast story that accused Walker of paying for his then-girlfriend’s abortion in 2009 coupled with his adult son’s stunning attacks on his father’s candidacy may pose the greatest threat yet to the Republican’s bid.
Just weeks before the midterm election, the shocking developments have some GOP figures despondent about Walker’s chances of defeating Warnock in a November race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson said the fallout is “ probably a KO “ for Walker’s midterm chances. Nicole Rodden, a former Republican House contender, blamed party leaders for backing a candidate who has “cost the GOP the US Senate for a second time.”
Walker reacted by condemning the Daily Beast report as a “flat-out lie” and said on Fox News 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.
The Republican and his allies had a more muted response toward his son Christian Walker’s claims that his father threatened to kill his family members and entered the race despite opposition from “every single one” of his relatives.
“I LOVE my son no matter what,” Walker tweeted.
The developments complicate Walker’s campaign at a pivotal time.
Already struggling to consolidate Republican support, Walker now stands accused of brazen hypocrisy over one of his campaign’s signature issues.
An avowed opponent of abortion, Walker called for a “total ban” on the procedure even in cases of incest or rape throughout his campaign. And he endorsed a 15-week federal abortion restriction proposed by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham even as other Republicans in key races distanced themselves from the measure.
His son’s sudden outspoken treatment of his father amounts to a different sort of blow. Christian Walker’s mother, Cindy Grossman accused Herschel Walker of choking her and putting a gun to her head when they were married. She obtained a restraining order against him in 2005 in response to the threats.
Warnock’s ads feature wrenching footage of Grossman recounting his abusive relationship, and the Republican has refused to directly address the allegations on the campaign trail beyond attributing his behavior to a mental health illness.
Though he runs influential social media accounts with droves of followers, Christian Walker hasn’t used his platform to advance his father’s campaign. His arms-length approach was an ongoing concern for his father’s supporters — and the subject of ongoing fascination in political circles.
He broke his silence around the same time Monday evening that his father took to Fox News to repudiate the Daily Beast report. As Herschel Walker fielded friendly questions from Sean Hannity, Christian Walker revealed that he and other relatives urged his father not to run “because we all knew (some of his) past.”
“He decided to give us the middle finger and air out all of his dirty laundry in public, while simultaneously lying about it,” Christian Walker wrote.
Moments later, Christian Walker added that his father was “making a mockery” out of the family.
“You’re not a ‘family man’ when you left us to bang a bunch of women, threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence,” Christian Walker posted in a now-viral tweet.
Beware of boomerangs
Despite the dire predictions from some Republicans, there’s no sign of an exodus from Walker’s campaign.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has devoted tens of millions of dollars to elect Walker, issued a statement late Monday that called the report “nonsense” and tied Warnock to President Joe Biden’s record.
“Democrats and the media have tried to stir up nonsense about what has or hasn’t happened in Herschel Walker’s past because they want to distract from what’s happening in the present,” said NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline.
State and national Republicans have little choice but to stick with Walker. Republicans have a narrow path to flip the evenly divided chamber, and Georgia is among a dwindling number of competitive states still on the board.
Democrats, meanwhile, have treated the developments with a sense of restrained glee. Warnock has been reluctant to wade into the issue, perhaps in fear of generating a unifying moment for his opponent. Some nervous Democrats talked privately about avoiding a “boomerang” effect.
The Daily Beast published the story as Warnock addressed dozens of Jewish supporters late Monday in a Dunwoody office tower, and the Democrat sidestepped a question about the report’s potential impact immediately after the event.
“I’ll let the pundits decide how they think it will impact the race,” Warnock said of the report. “But I have been consistent in my view that a patient’s room is too narrow and cramped for space for a woman and the government. My view on that has not changed.”
Other Democrats mocked Walker’s response as a smokescreen. State Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Dekalb County Democrat, called the Senate candidate’s threat of legal action a “desperate attempt at misdirection.”
“It may be filed but I guarantee you it will be withdrawn right after Election Day,” said Holcomb, who is an attorney. “After all, truth is a defense to a defamation claim and Walker would need to testify under oath.”
Are the developments a game-changing moment in the campaign, or a blip on the trail? Even Walker’s detractors begrudgingly acknowledge his bid has shown a remarkable sense of resiliency.
He remains neck-and-neck with Warnock despite a string of damaging reports about his violent history, lies about his law enforcement experience, academic record and business background, and confusing statements on the campaign trail.
Recent reports about Walker’s previously unacknowledged children have seemingly not had a lasting impact on the Republican’s campaign. But some Republicans worry the latest developments could pose a different sort of risk to his candidacy.
One Republican official close to Walker was already shifting responsibility for the candidate’s potential downfall, saying Christian Walker is “solely to blame if Herschel loses the race.”
Another GOP veteran allied with Walker said Donald Trump’s ability to survive scandals will serve as a blueprint for the Senate nominee’s “galvanizing defense.”
Walker hinted at his strategy during his appearance with Hannity when he accused Democrats and their allies of threatening his loved ones.
“They’re not going to take the seat, so they better work even harder,” Walker said. “They’ve jeopardized my kids, they’ve jeopardized my family. They think they can threaten me. They think they can scare me. Right now, all they’ve done is they’ve energized me more.”