WADLEY, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker remained defiant Thursday after successive reports alleging that he encouraged and paid for a woman's 2009 abortion and later fathered a child with her.
Digging in on his denials of The Daily Beast's reporting, Walker, a football icon turned celebrity politician and staunch abortion foe, blamed the stories on Democrats and their “desperation” — a defensive tactic that Walker's friend and ally, former President Donald Trump, used to weather myriad controversies on his way to the White House.
“I know why you're here. I do,” he told reporters after his first public campaign speech since The Daily Beast's initial report Monday. “You're here because the Democrats are desperate to hold on to this seat here, and they're desperate to make this race about my family.”
He went on to repeat: “This abortion thing is false. It's a lie.”
Walker promised in the hours after a Monday report to sue the news outlet, but has not followed up with confirmation he has done so. And he has yet to clarify why he initially said he had no idea what woman could be making such an abortion claim, only to have The Daily Beast follow up Wednesday with the woman saying she had had a long relationship with Walker that included a child he knows.
The allegations have rocked one of the nation's most important Senate matchups. Walker is in a tight contest with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, with the outcome potentially determining which party controls the Senate for the final two years of President Joe Biden's term.
Walker's tempest hasn't shaken support among Republicans in Washington, where Senate control supersedes nearly all concerns in a competitive race. But the latest turns have rattled some party faithful in Georgia, especially after The Daily Beast's follow-up report undercut Walker's blanket denials.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting calls from Republicans who are very concerned and struggling with what they’re going to do in the voting booth,” Martha Zoller, a popular radio host in north Georgia and one-time congressional candidate, said in an interview.
Indeed, Walker presents the latest balancing test for religious and cultural conservatives who must weigh their preference for Republican rule against an individual candidate accused of not reflecting their values. Trump, who urged Walker to run for the Senate, won the GOP presidential nomination and the White House in 2016 despite being twice divorced, previously supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and being captured on tape bragging about “grabbing” women by their genitalia.
In Walker, conservatives face another political novice who characterizes abortion as a woman “killing her baby,” only to have allegations that he paid to end a pregnancy he helped conceive. Just months ago, also after a Daily Beast story, Walker acknowledged the existence of three children he'd not discussed publicly before, one now indirectly identified as the child of the woman who said she had the abortion. Those personal details come on top of stories detailing Walker's exaggerations of business achievements and philanthropic efforts.
Zoller said that no “committed Republican” would vote for Warnock but that many would consider backing the Libertarian nominee or skipping the Senate race altogether. “I think most won’t know until they’re standing there in the booth,” she said. “That’s how jarring these revelations are.”
Even among national GOP luminaries, some of the defenses have been less than forceful.
“He had a lot of concussions coming out of football; he suffered PTSD,” said Newt Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman and Republican House speaker, shortly after praising Walker as “a remarkable person.”
The Daily Beast still has not identified the woman by name, saying it wants to protect her privacy.
The initial report included paper evidence the woman provided. Those records include what appears to be a $575 receipt for an abortion procedure, a get-well card signed by Walker and a bank deposit receipt showing a $700 personal check from Walker, dated five days after the abortion receipt.
In that story, The Daily Beast described the woman only as someone who was dating Walker in 2009, at the time of the abortion. Walker responded in interviews with conservative media saying he had no idea who could make the allegation and then dismissed the personal check by claiming, “I send money to a lot of people.”
The Daily Beast responded with the second report in which the woman said she was so well known to Walker that, according to her, they conceived another child years after the abortion. She decided to continue with the later pregnancy, though she noted that Walker, as he had during the earlier pregnancy, expressed that it wasn’t a convenient time for him, the outlet reported.
Prior to his Senate bid, Walker had publicly acknowledged only one son: Christian Walker, whose mother was Walker’s first wife. He acknowledged three additional children as a result of reporting during the campaign. But those children have not been featured in his campaign.
Christian Walker, a high-profile social media commentator who identifies as a conservative, has issued several statements since Monday’s Daily Beast report, accusing Herschel Walker of lying about his past and being an absent, violent father and husband.
Asked about Christian on Thursday, he said simply: "I love my son so much. He's a great little man. I love him to death. I will always love him no matter what.”
Warnock, for his part, turns questions on Walker and abortion to the Republican's opposition to the procedure, rather than to any accusations against Walker. He took that tack again Thursday as he campaigned in Savannah with his children, ages 6 and 3, in tow.
The Daily Beast said the Walker campaign declined to comment on Wednesday’s story, and the candidate offered no illuminating details during his five-minute exchange with reporters in south Georgia.
Walker began airing an ad this week, titled “Grace,” in which he mentions his struggles with mental illness, which he wrote about in a 2008 memoir that details violent threats he made against his first wife. The ad doesn't allude to the abortion allegations, but he did address them in a fundraising appeal sent to supporters late Thursday.
“I have never paid for anyone to have an abortion,” the pitch states. By issuing that denial, the appeal suggested “the Left” was trying “to paint (Walker) as a man unfit to serve in public office” because of his previous struggles with mental illness for which he already “got help.”
Such generalities are not enough for someone with Walker's known and alleged history, radio host Zoller said.
During his Senate primary, Walker openly backed a national ban on abortions with no caveats — particularly notable at a time when the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court precedent had been overturned and Democrats in Congress had been discussing codifying abortion rights into federal law. When asked whether he’d allow exceptions in cases involving rape, incest or a woman’s health being at risk, Walker has said there are “no excuses” for the procedure.
As the nominee, however, Walker has often sidestepped questions about that position, a tacit nod to the fact that most voters, including many Republicans, want at least some legal access to abortion.
His stock answer instead: “I’m for life.”
Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Russ Bynum contributed to this report from Savannah, Ga.
Bill Barrow And Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press