Republicans split on allegations against Herschel Walker
LISTEN: Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan slams U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker after continued controversy.
Georgia Republicans have feverishly eyed the opportunity to win back a U.S. Senate seat in 2022 after voters sent two Democrats to represent them in the chamber last election.
All hope pointed to Herschel Walker, a football legend who has the vocal backing of former President Donald Trump and handily won his primary with 68% of the vote.
But his campaign was rattled just five weeks out from the election with allegations first reported by The Daily Beast that he paid for an ex-girlfriend to have an abortion — despite his staunch opposition to abortion he vocalizes on the campaign trail.
He has previously voiced support of a “total ban” on abortion — with no exceptions for rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. Walker recently said he would support a proposal by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that would ban abortions after 15 weeks.
The initial report brought other shocking controversies to light: In a string of social media posts, Walker’s son Christian called his father a “liar” and detailed claims of persistent domestic violence including that Walker had “threatened to kill” his family members.
Additional reporting by the New York Times detailed that Walker had urged the woman he paid to have an abortion years later to go through the procedure again. The woman opted to end the relationship and have the child, who is now 10 years old.
GPB News has not independently verified these reports.
Walker has denied the abortion-related allegations and pledged to file a lawsuit against The Daily Beast — although nothing has yet been filed.
Some Georgia Republicans are worried about the price the party will pay for Walker’s string of controversies.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who emerged after 2020 as an outspoken critic of Trump, slammed the Senate nominee in a scathing op-ed for CNN saying that support from the former president shouldn’t be the litmus test for a winning candidate.
In an interview with GPB News, Duncan said Georgia Republicans are now “playing defense” because of Walker’s questionable past.
“We ignored all the warning signs,” he said. “We ignored all of the normal vetting of what is a true leader to represent us in the U.S. Senate — and we just simply paid attention to a football record and the fact that the former president endorsed him. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean a majority of Republicans did that.”
The lieutenant governor is not running for reelection and has focused his career on a conservative movement he calls “GOP 2.0,” a pathway forward for Republicans that doesn't include Trump.
He said based on President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and Gov. Brian Kemp’s success on the campaign trail, winning back the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Warnock “should have been a layup.”
“We should have done a better job of putting a better candidate forward, but we didn't,” Duncan said. “I think this is some of this wakeup medicine that's like, ‘Hey, we can't keep doing this just because Donald Trump told us to.’ That's a losing strategy.”
But national Republicans are standing steadfastly behind Walker. On Tuesday, GOP U.S. Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas are traveling to Georgia to campaign for the nominee.
The trip underscores the importance of the race for Republican efforts to recapture the majority in the Senate.
Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler told GPB News that the allegations against Walker are a “distraction” from the “real stakes of this election.”
“I'm very familiar with the political attacks that come out of the media,” she said at a recent event for her mobilization group, Greater Georgia. “My focus as someone evaluating candidates is what will they stand for in Washington? What will their votes be?”
Some die-hard Walker supporters aren’t flinching at the allegations, either.
Cobb County Republican Party Chairwoman Salleigh Grubbs donned a bright red “Run Herschel Run” hat and No. 34 jersey at a Greater Georgia canvassing event on Saturday.
She doesn’t believe the abortion-related claims and doubled down that Walker has already taken accountability for his some of his mistakes. “Everybody has a past,” she said.
“I have gotten to spend some time with Herschel and he is a man of his word,” Grubbs said. “He is probably one of the most humble men I've ever met in my life. I've spent time with members of his family. He comes from an excellent upbringing. He is a Georgia success story.”
But conservative commentator Erick Erickson sees Walker’s candidacy differently and said in a blog post that he cautioned Republicans against nominating him for the Senate race.
“The baggage had always been there," Erickson wrote. "As I warned in the primary, Walker was the weakest possible candidate, but the GOP went with celebrity."
Christian Walker’s string of tweets calling his father a “liar” after previously being largely supportive of his bid was the last straw for some.
“Georgia Republicans overnight were burning up my phone with text messages,” Erickson wrote. “It didn’t hit home for them until Christian Walker started his tweets, largely throwing his dad under the bus.”
Walker also denied allegations of violence against his ex-wife voiced by his son on social media, although Christian Walker’s mother, Cindy Grossman, has previously accused Herschel Walker of violence and sought a restraining order against him in 2005, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"Anything that happened with my ex-wife, what Christian said, I don't know," he said during a press conference in Wadley last week.
Georgia Republicans face the heightened chance that typically party-loyal voters will have a split-ticket this year by backing incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Raphael Warnock over Walker.
Throughout this election cycle, Kemp has stayed distant from Walker and has not officially campaigned with his fellow nominee at all.