Herschel Walker’s Senate Campaign in Disarray After Firing, Abortion Report

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

(Bloomberg) -- Herschel Walker’s Georgia Senate campaign plunged deeper into turmoil Friday, with the firing of his political director and an accusation that he asked a woman to have a second abortion, imperiling Republican efforts to recover a vaunted seat and a majority in the upper chamber.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The cascade of disruptions illustrated the extraordinary public airing of dismay in Walker’s candidacy outlined by Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan in an opinion column published Thursday by CNN that the Republican Party has only itself to blame for betting on Walker as its choice to unseat incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock in a state long regarded as a GOP bastion.

Hours after the Duncan column was published, CNN reported that the Walker campaign’s political director, Taylor Crowe, had been fired. Then the New York Times published an account of a woman who said Walker had pressured her to have a second abortion.

The bombardment of bad news for the campaign prompted one Georgia Republican operative to text Bloomberg an image of a sinking ship.

With some 30 days before the Nov. 8 election, it’s too late for Republicans to replace Walker under Georgia election rules, even if they wanted to, Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist, said Friday.

“He’s the horse they gotta ride,” Bullock said in a telephone interview.

The Walker-Warnock contest is one of the pivotal races in the battle for control of the Senate. Warnock has clung to a narrow lead in most polls, but Georgia is one of the two contests involving Democratic-held seats that independent analysts rate as a tossup. It was regarded as a Republican stronghold until Warnock and now-US Senator Jon Ossoff won elections in January 2021.

Republicans need a net gain of one seat to gain a majority in the Senate.

Bullock said the revelations are bound to erode support for Walker, regardless of how much Georgia Republicans covet the seat. He said some dismayed Republicans may back Warnock, or some may choose the libertarian candidate, which could trigger a consecutive run-off election for the seat if none of the candidates get more than 50% of the total vote.

Walker has publicly expressed support for bans on abortion.

He has denied reports in the Daily Beast, which Bloomberg has not independently verified, that he paid for a woman’s abortion and that they had a child together. He told reporters at an event Thursday he would “not back down” and that “We’re going to win this race.”

And in a fundraising pitch Friday, Walker attributed the allegations to “politics.”

“Let me be clear: I have never paid for anyone to have an abortion. It’s a flat-out lie,” Walker said in the fundraising email to donors.

Former President Donald Trump, who encouraged Walker to run, has stood by him. Make America Great Again Inc., the new super PAC started by Trump allies, has spent $753,000 on cable television commercials, according to AdImpact, which tracks political advertising.

But despite the PAC’s ad purchases, Trump associates expressed concerns and even disappointment in discussions with the Walker campaign, a person familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The Times said it had interviewed the woman who told the Daily Beast that Walker paid for her abortion in 2009. She told the Times that when she became pregnant again, Walker urged her to have another abortion. She refused and gave birth some months later. She added that Walker had not taken part in her 10-year-old child’s life, other than giving some gifts and providing court-ordered child support.

Walker’s campaign didn’t immediately respond Friday to requests for comment. Early voting begins in Georgia on Oct. 17.

But on Thursday, he called the initial Daily Beast article “a lie” during his first public appearance after it was published.

“I know why you’re here,” he told reporters and others attending the event at a lumber yard. “You’re here because the Democrats are desperate to hold onto this seat here, and they’re desperate to make this race about my family.”

Walker has rode Trump’s endorsement and the state’s very close partisan divide to stay competitive. Still, the scrutiny of the former University of Georgia and NFL football star’s past has been intensifying. There already had been allegations of past domestic abuse and that he exaggerated his business prowess.

Duncan, reflecting rising concern among Republicans, wrote that the party should never have put forth “an untested and unproven first-time candidate,” like Walker in such an important race.

“If we want the American public to take us seriously, we need to take the first step by nominating candidates they should take seriously,” Duncan wrote.

Duncan, who was a vocal critic of Trump’s unfounded claims of voting fraud in the 2020 election, isn’t seeking re-election.

He cited Warnock’s slight edge in the race and his near lockstep voting record to support President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, despite his deep unpopularity in Georgia.

“Yet instead of Warnock’s voting record, the attention has focused on the Republican challenger, a trend that will only accelerate after recent events,” he wrote. “Just as in the special elections in 2021, if the GOP squanders this year’s Georgia Senate race, we only have ourselves to blame.”

Before publication of the Times article, Warnock had told reporters at an event in Macon on Friday that “We have seen some disturbing things. We’ve seen a disturbing pattern and it raises real questions.”

Many conservatives in Georgia and elsewhere, however, have closed ranks around Walker. Pat Gartland, a former chairman of the Georgia Christian Coalition, said that among people he has been talking to, Walker “is still better than the alternative.”

And Jack Kingston, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, said he didn’t agree with Duncan that the party had wrecked its chances of winning the Senate seat, pointing out that “the lieutenant governor could have run, himself, but didn’t.”

“Herschel Walker is part of the solution in checking the Biden administration and I think most people realize that, and will stick with him,” Kingston said.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.