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In early July, after several stories about Walker's exaggerated claims of business success and revealing three children Walker had not previously acknowledged publicly, The Daily Beast reported that Walker had even lied to his own campaign about having other children.
An AARP poll last week shows Walker down three points to Sen. Raphael Warnock, within the margin of error, while Gov. Brian Kemp is up by seven points over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams. A Quinnipiac poll from late June showed Warnock with a 10-point lead over walker while Kemp was neck and neck with Abrams.
"When there are ghosts in the closet, when you run for higher office you're essentially giving the media the key to open those doors and look in and see," said Charles S. Bullock III, Richard B. Russell professor of political science at the University of Georgia.
'Shave a few inches'
In a tight race, the campaigns are spending millions to tip a few thousand votes their way.
"Georgia is literally split right down the middle," said Rick Dent, vice president of Matrix, a political consulting firm in Alabama and Georgia. "So any one argument or fact is not going to have a massive sway like you're used to in other campaigns, where you can say well that was a silver bullet that took five points off of him or six points off of him. That's not the danger to Herschel Walker. The danger to Herschel Walker is that there will be a cumulative effect that may shave a few inches off of his support in November."
The AARP poll shows that among voters 50 and older, only 15% are not definitively voting for one candidate or the other already — and of those, 13% are leaning towards one of the two candidates.
"The ranks of independents have become narrowed and there's evidence too that there's fewer voters now who will do a split ticket when they vote than there used to be," Bullock said. "What's being played for here is a relatively small sliver of the electorate, those who are persuadable one way or another."
Despite this, there do seem to be some voters in Georgia who are willing to vote for Kemp but skip Walker on their ballot. And to persuade those voters, the campaigns are spending millions to portray their opponents as unfit for the Senate.
"Right now, you're looking at approximately $170 million that has been spent or is going to be spent on advertising by both sides, as of right now," Dent said. "What are they going to use that money for? It's really going to be two messages. For the Democrats, the message is going to be, simply put, that Walker is unstable and crazy. That's it, that's really their argument. The Walker campaign's message is going to be socialist, Biden lover, can't be trusted."
Checking the facts
In response to a request for comment on this article, Warnock's campaign highlighted his work on inflation, insulin prices and other economic issues.
"Georgians have a clear choice this fall between Reverend Warnock’s record of fighting to protect and grow Georgia jobs and Herschel Walker’s record of lies, exaggerations, and bizarre claims, which show that he is not ready to represent the people of Georgia in the U.S. Senate," wrote campaign press secretary Sarafina Chitika.
Walker's campaign did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Walker's campaign has gathered a slew of fact checks so far. In December, his campaign claimed on its website that he graduated from the University of Georgia, when he famously left after his junior year to play professional football. Then he claimed that he had never claimed he graduated from UGA.
It is difficult to ascertain the truthfulness of campaigns in aggregate.
The fact checking website PolitiFact rated as false a statement from Walker saying that the fact there are still apes around calls into question the idea that humans evolved from apes, but has not done any other fact checks on him. Warnock has six PolitiFact ratings, several from his last Senate race: one true, one mostly true, three half true, and one false, a claim when he was running against Kelly Loeffler that she support raising taxes on middle class Georgians.
But while it may be hard to make general statements, Bullock thinks that Walker is learning the hard way about the scrutiny political candidates are placed under.
"He spent the last 40 years of his life saying applause line," Bullock said. "When you're simply, as a person brought in to give a speech, fire up a crowd, nobody is going to spend much time fact checking what you said. But once you enter the political arena then one of the first things that happens is the other side goes out and hires someone to do opposition research and combs through everything you have ever said."
Some of that history is already making it into negative advertising at an unprecedented rate. The Warnock campaign has been spending around a million dollars a week since February, according to both Bullock and Dent.
"That wouldn't have happened five, 10 years ago," Dent said. "Negative advertising used to be the final five, six or seven weeks before an election. And now we're seeing negative advertising five months, six months before an election."
In contrast to Dent, Bullock thinks Warnock's ads are still fairly positive.
"Warnock is running similar ads to what he did two years ago, which worked," he said. "(They) have often a light touch, which lots of ads by all kinds of candidates do not have, so he doesn't come across as being angry or strident, he's getting his message across but also a bit of humor."
Regardless of the message, the amount of money of money being spent to convey it is high — and the impact remains to be seen. But several months out, there does seem to be some erosion of support for Walker among those few persuadable voters.
"I can imagine there will be some voters who will vote for Brian Kemp but also vote for Raphael Warnock," Bullock said. "I think there would not be many who would vote for Stacey Abrams and for Herschel Walker."
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Herschel Walker's campaign faltering even as Brian Kemp is up in polls