Is Herschel Walker's past too much for Georgia Republicans?

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Republican voters from the South are rightfully considered rock-solid party loyalists, but in 2017, Alabama’s Roy Moore proved there is a line that, if crossed, can doom a conservative Senate candidate in even the friendliest of environments.

The question now is whether Herschel Walker, Republican candidate in Georgia for the U.S. Senate, has tripped over that line. According to a Daily Beast article published on Monday, Walker paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion in 2009.

Roy Moore
Roy Moore after losing his senatorial bid in Alabama, Dec. 12, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post via Getty Images) (The Washington Post via Getty Im)

“Georgia is not a deeply red state, and even Alabama elected Doug Jones instead of Roy Moore,” wrote Erick Erickson, a conservative talk radio host who is deeply involved in Georgia politics, on Tuesday morning.

In 2017, Moore lost a Senate race to Jones, a Democrat, after the Washington Post reported that the former judge had sexually assaulted a 14-year old girl when he was in his early 30s, and that other women accused Moore of pursuing them during that same period when they were teenagers.

Walker, a 60-year-old former football star, has already been plagued by a long list of embarrassing disclosures about his personal life. It has been revealed that he has had three children by three different women other than his ex-wife (with whom he had one child as well), that he falsely claimed to have worked in law enforcement and that he has been credibly accused of serious acts of domestic violence.

Walker, who is running against Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, has admitted to past misdeeds and said his Christian faith has helped him overcome his struggles with mental health.

Now, however, Walker — who has said he supports a nationwide ban on all abortions with no exceptions — is denying the allegation that he paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion and has threatened to sue the Daily Beast.

Herschel Walker
Herschel Walker campaigning in Norcross, Ga., on Sept. 9. (Demetrius Freeman/Washington Post via Getty Images) (The Washington Post via Getty Im)

But Walker’s son Christian, a conservative with a large audience on social media, told his more than 200,000 followers on Twitter that his father is a hypocrite and a liar.

“He has four kids, four different women, wasn’t in the house raising one of them. He was out having sex with other women. Do you care about Christian values?” Christian Walker said in a video posted to the site. “I’m done, done. Everything has been a lie.”

“Don’t lie on the lives you’ve destroyed and act like you’re some moral family man,” he said.

Herschel Walker already lagged behind Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in the May GOP primaries. Out of 1.2 million Kemp voters, roughly 85,000 did not vote for Walker. He still easily won the Republican nomination for Senate, but assuming a close contest this fall, even a relatively small number of GOP voters leaving their ballots blank or voting for Warnock could be decisive.

Over the past few months, Erickson wrote, Walker had “turned his campaign around ... and appeared to have some momentum in the polls.”

“Not anymore. Georgia Republicans overnight were burning up my phone with text messages. It didn’t hit home for them until Christian Walker started his tweets, largely throwing his dad under the bus,” Erickson wrote. “A month ago, I thought Walker was a sure thing. Now I think he is less likely to win unless he mounts an immediate response.”

Gov. Brian Kemp
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp after winning the Republican primary on May 24. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters) (REUTERS)

A Georgia Republican who has worked on recent statewide campaigns told Yahoo News that polling has continued to show Walker running around 8 points behind Kemp, and that this latest story will only make it harder for Walker to make up that gap.

“The bigger issue is authenticity. Do voters, not just Republicans, really know who this guy is? Can he be trusted to do what’s best for Georgia? Or is he just saying one thing and doing another?” the Georgia Republican told Yahoo News.

“To beat Warnock, you got to make the race about the Dems’ failed policies (inflation, energy, Afghanistan, crime, etc.), but for the last several months — and at least for the next two weeks given the current scandal — Walker’s campaign is going to be on the defensive, barely able to level an attack on his opponent.”

If Walker hopes to win this fall, he will have to count on a few things making the difference between the current moment and 2017, when Moore lost to Jones in Alabama.

Among Republicans, establishment media outlets are less trusted now than they were even five years ago. A Pew Research Center study showed that, in 2016, 1 out of 3 conservatives said they did not trust national news organizations, but that by 2021, 2 out of 3 conservatives said they didn’t trust the press.

A protester holds a placard that says Fake News Is the Real Virus
Deep skepticism about the news media is on display at a recent protest in Huntington Beach, Calif. (Stanton Sharpe/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett)

And then there is the intense spike in recent years of partisan hatred, also known as polarization or negative partisanship. Since 2016, Democrats and Republicans have come to see one another increasingly as an existential threat. A Pew survey released in August showed that in 2016, 47% of Republicans believed Democrats were “immoral,” and that by 2022 that number had risen to 72%. Democratic voter belief that Republicans are immoral had gone from 35% to 63% in the same period.

So Republican voters are even more contemptuous of Democrats than they were five years ago, increasing the urgency with which some in Georgia may feel they must vote for any Republican on the ballot.

And unlike in 2017, Democrats now control Congress and the White House, raising the stakes for Republicans even further. If Walker wins, it will be exceedingly hard for Democrats to retain the Senate, where they enjoy a majority only due to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote. That’s a big incentive for GOP voters to vote for Walker regardless of his past.

Those three factors would be among the big drivers if Walker were to hold on and win. Moore saw his campaign collapse even though Alabama is a Republican stronghold. Georgia, meanwhile, is a swing state that voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and elected two Democratic senators in 2021.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, former President Donald Trump — who helped validate Walker’s candidacy with an early endorsement — encouraged Republicans to ignore the scandals engulfing the football hero’s candidacy.

Former President Donald Trump
Donald Trump at a rally in Warren, Mich., on Saturday. (Emily Elconin/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

“Herschel has properly denied the charges against him, and I have no doubt he is correct,” Trump said. “They are trying to destroy a man who has true greatness in his future, just as he had athletic greatness in his past. It’s very important for our Country and the Great State of Georgia that Herschel Walker wins this Election.”

Walker may still have a shot at winning in what many expect will be a strong showing in November for Republicans. But after Monday’s revelations, his path to the Senate is much more difficult than it was before.