Herschel Walker and his campaign are struggling to contain the fallout from a new report that the staunch anti-abortion candidate paid his then-girlfriend to have an abortion in 2009.
Republican groups are publicly vowing to spend big to help Walker overcome the late controversy. But Republicans privately acknowledge that the report, which Walker has vehemently denied, could be a death blow, and are trying to limit the damage to his campaign.
Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise addressed staff Tuesday morning and told aides that the allegation that Walker paid for the abortion was a setback so close to the election, according to a source familiar with the remarks.
Paradise also referenced the explosive “Access Hollywood” tape that surfaced weeks before the 2016 presidential election in which then-presidential candidate Donald Trump admitted to sexually assaulting women.
“Trump still got to the White House,” Paradis told staffers, adding that Walker’s campaign had seen a surge in fundraising since Walker vehemently denied the allegations. Paradis later denied he was referring to the “Access Hollywood” episode on Twitter, saying, “This is all fake (except the part about a fundraiser day).”
Top campaign officials, fielding calls from grassroots volunteers Tuesday morning and checking with state lawmakers and local GOP leaders to make sure Walker didn’t lose support, planned to have a direct conversation with their boss about the abortion allegation on Tuesday. said a person close to the Walker campaign. The identity of the woman making the claim was withheld by the Daily Beast, which first reported the allegation against Walker. CNN has not independently confirmed the allegation.
“Once we have more data, we can go to work and win this thing,” said the person close to the Walker campaign.
Walker has weathered one controversy after another, neck-and-neck with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia in one of the tightest Senate races this cycle. But five weeks before Election Day, a Daily Beast report prompted Walker’s son, Christian, to attack Walker as a liar and left conservatives wondering if his alleged hypocrisy would sink his Senate campaign.
“It will take us a few days to assess how this plays out,” said a senior GOP strategist who asked not to be named.
After initially agreeing to speak to CNN on the campaign trail this week, his aides declined to answer questions or divulge anything about his schedule.
But CNN obtained a copy of a Tuesday invitation sponsored by “Prayer Warriors for Herschel” at a Baptist church in suburban Atlanta, where Walker declined to be interviewed by the media. CNN was unable to cover the event or be in the parking lot.
Conservative activist Ralph Reed told reporters outside the event that the article “will not resonate with Georgia voters. It is based on an anonymous complaint that is 13 years old.” He attacked Warnock’s record and the senator’s votes with President Joe Biden.
Asked if Walker himself could address these issues, Reed told CNN, “This is a closed event. It’s a prayer event with faith leaders.”
Walker called the claim “absolutely false” and threatened to sue the Daily Beast on Tuesday morning. The Daily Beast said it corroborates the allegations with a receipt from the abortion clinic, a bank deposit slip and Walker’s “okay” card provided by the woman, as well as an interview with a “close friend” of the woman. .
“I deny this in the strongest possible terms,” Walker said in a statement.
Christian Walker, one of his sons, condemned his father on Twitter after the report, saying that Herschel Walker is not a “family man” and that he was lying.
Herschel Walker responded on Twitter: “I LOVE my son no matter what.” Christian Walker, a conservative social media influencer, tweeted that his father had “betrayed” the family.
Asked to respond to Christian Walker, Reed said, “I gave my statement.”
But with the battle for control of the Senate on a knife’s edge, Republicans are signaling that they are not backing down from Walker, a battleground victory that could put them back in the majority.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate Republican campaign arm, and the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reiterated their commitment to elect Walker. NRSC President Rick Scott, a Florida senator, was scheduled to speak privately with Walker by phone Tuesday morning, according to a person familiar with the matter, and NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline publicly pushed back after the report.
“Democrats are losing in Georgia and on the verge of losing the majority, so they and their media allies are doing what they always do: attacking Republicans with innuendo and lies,” Hartlin said.
“We are at full speed in Georgia. This election is about the future of the country – Herschel Walker will make things better, Raphael Warnock is making things worse,” SLF president Steven Law added in a statement. “Anything else is a distraction.”
Trump also came to Walker’s defense, saying in a statement on Tuesday that he “properly denied the allegations against him, and I have no doubt that they are correct.”
Trump, who said he was “slandering and maligning” Walker, was happy to see the SLF and NRSC standing alongside Walker, who he handpicked for the Senate race, an adviser to the former president said. Sources close to the former president, however, said Trump’s team is ready to make more allegations against Walker before Election Day and is currently considering whether Trump should return to Georgia to campaign for Walker.
“The president has been to Georgia twice in the last year and the state was in good shape until yesterday, so now we have to see how the ground changes,” said a second Trump adviser.
Sources said a decision on whether Trump returns to the state likely won’t come until after the Oct. 14 debate between Walker and Warnock in Savannah.
The Daily Beast report takes on added significance after a conservative majority on the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in the summer of 1973’s Roe v. By voting to overturn the landmark Wade case. In May, Walker said there is “no exception in my mind” for abortion. And in September, he came out in support of a proposed national bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling, Democrats tried to get citizens to vote to protect abortion rights. Georgia Honor, a member of the Senate Majority PAC, will release a television ad Wednesday “highlighting how Herschel Walker supports a total ban on abortion without exceptions,” according to a spokeswoman.
At an event with Jewish activists outside Atlanta Monday night, Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, drew a standing ovation as he described his stance.
“I’m a man of faith and as a man of faith, I have a deep respect for life, and I have a deep and abiding respect for opportunity,” Warnock said. “I believe that a patient’s room is too small and a cramped space for a woman, her doctor and the United States government. There are too many people in the room. Too many people in the room.’
Before the event, Georgia resident Susan Segal said she would support Warnock, calling “women’s rights” and abortion “a driving issue.”
“I think it’s a very story that they’re asking us to go back to 1940. And I think it’s a very scary direction,” Segal said.
Some Georgia Democrats remain silent on Walker’s latest accusation; The state party said it would not comment on the Daily Beast article. A state Democratic organizer is skeptical of the long-term impact of the revelations.
“In 2016 we saw Donald Trump being rude and bragging about sexually assaulting women. And he still became president of the United States,” said Hillary Holley, executive director of the Care in Action PAC, which worked on the Stacey Abrams campaign in 2018.
After Trump asked him to run, Walker, a former University of Georgia and NFL running back, gained support from Republican party leaders like McConnell, who had initially been privately reluctant to back Walker and sought other candidates.
Polls between Walker and Warnock now show a very tight race, as the midterm political environment for Democrats across the country remains poor due to President Joe Biden’s unpopularity, inflation and crime.
So far, Walker has been able to counter stories about his character, business practices and personal life, including the alleged violent threats he has made to a number of women, including his ex-wife. Walker has said she has dissociative personality disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, and has sought to counsel people with mental health issues.
Warnock and allied outside groups have been hammering Walker on the airwaves for weeks, highlighting allegations of domestic abuse in multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns.
Asked if he had seen the ads after Walker’s past, Greg Baker, a Georgia resident who plans to vote for Warnock, said, “How could you not?”
Warnock defended his campaign’s focus on the issue despite acknowledging Walker’s past struggles with mental health.
“I think the people of Georgia have a stark choice about who they’re willing to represent in the United States Senate,” Warnock told CNN.
Last week, when asked about Walker’s alleged violent comments toward women, Scott told CNN, “Herschel has been honest about his past, and he’s been honest about how he got help and he’s better.” Scott said voters will focus on rising consumer goods costs, the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan and critical race theory.
David Gould, a Georgia resident, told CNN he would vote for Walker because of “economic issues,” including the “irresponsibility” of federal government spending, taxes, immigration and defense.
“I don’t agree with Warnock’s philosophy,” Gould said. “I don’t agree with the votes cast since he was in office.”