Republicans Rally Behind Herschel Walker After Abortion Report


National Republicans quickly began to close ranks on Tuesday behind Herschel Walker, the party’s embattled nominee for Senate in Georgia, a day after a report that Mr. Walker, an outspoken supporter of an abortion ban with no exceptions, had paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009.

Mr. Walker, a former football star, has denied the report, published in The Daily Beast on Monday, calling it “a flat-out lie.” The site did not identify the woman but said she had produced documentation of Mr. Walker’s role, including a 2009 receipt from the abortion clinic and a deposit receipt with an image of a $700 check said to be from Mr. Walker, dated days later, that she said had covered the cost of the procedure. It also published a “get well” card that the woman said had been signed by Mr. Walker.

The Georgia contest is a linchpin to the Republican Party’s chances to take control of the Senate in 2022, and national party leaders signaled Tuesday that they planned to stick with Mr. Walker. At the same time, his son, Christian Walker, who has cultivated a large following on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, posted videos lashing his father as a liar who had committed “atrocities” against him and his mother.

“Full speed ahead in Georgia,” said Steven Law, the president of the Senate Leadership Fund, which booked more than $34 million in television ads in the state between Labor Day and Election Day.

Privately, some Georgia Republican strategists said they feared that the abortion report, which The New York Times has not independently confirmed, and the fresh public attacks by Christian Walker would make it harder for Mr. Walker to win in November, with one sharing an animated GIF of the Titanic.

Mr. Walker has already been found to have embellished or misrepresented key elements of his life story, including claiming he worked in law enforcement (he did not). For years, his food-distribution company said it would donate a portion of its earnings to charity, but there is little evidence that it did so.

Democrats have also been airing bruising ads that feature footage of Mr. Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, describing how he once held a gun to her head and threatened to pull the trigger. Mr. Walker has not denied that accusation and has said he once struggled with mental illness.

With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.

National Republicans have stayed focused on the Georgia race’s impact in the broader contest for control of the Senate. “This election is about the future of the country,” Mr. Law said. “Herschel Walker will make things better, Raphael Warnock is making it worse. Anything else is a distraction.”

Mr. Warnock, who won the seat in a runoff election in January 2021, is seeking a full six-year term and is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the nation, running in a state with a long Republican lineage but that Democrats carried in 2020.

Since Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, many Christian conservatives have chosen to overlook a politician’s personal failings for the sake of achieving broader policy goals.

Ralph Reed, the prominent social conservative leader based in the state, dismissed the latest report, saying that he expected “100 percent” that evangelical Christians would stick with Mr. Walker.

He compared the report’s timing to that of the “Access Hollywood” recording that threatened Mr. Trump’s bid in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign. “We’ve seen this movie before,” Mr. Reed said. “They’re trying to take down a good man.”

The statements of support from fellow Republicans came quickly on Tuesday.

Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said on Tuesday, “Herschel has denied these allegations and the N.R.S.C. and Republicans stand with him.”

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Chris Hartline, the group’s communications director, accused “Democrats and the media” of trying “to stir up nonsense about what has or hasn’t happened in Herschel Walker’s past.”

Mr. Walker swiftly denied the abortion report on Monday, calling it “disgusting, gutter politics.” It followed previous reports on Mr. Walker’s tumultuous personal life that included the existence of three children whom he fathered but had not mentioned publicly or to his campaign aides.

The son who was known publicly, Christian Walker, has not endorsed his father’s campaign. He said on Twitter on Monday that “every member” of the family had urged him not to run. In a follow-up video on Tuesday, he accused his father of being a liar and said that conservatives who continued to back his campaign were hypocrites.

“Family values, people?” Christian Walker said. “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 family values? I was silent, lie after lie after lie.”

He added: “We were told at the beginning of this, he was going to get ahead of his past, hold himself accountable, all these different things, and that would have been fine — go ahead. He didn’t do any of that.”

The older Mr. Walker wrote on Twitter late Monday, “I LOVE my son no matter what.”

Mr. Walker appeared at an event hosted by First Baptist Church of Atlanta on Tuesday morning, billed as a “worship and luncheon” for the candidate. Journalists were not allowed access to the luncheon and were asked to leave the parking lot outside it as scores of supporters trickled in.

Mr. Walker, who has spoken extensively about his religious faith, is counting on the support of evangelical Christians in Georgia. Mr. Reed argued that the latest report could lift turnout among social conservatives, saying voters would rally to defend Mr. Walker.

On Tuesday, the super PAC aligned with the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which said it had visited more than 310,000 Georgia homes this campaign season, also said it was standing behind Mr. Walker. “Herschel Walker has denied these allegations in the strongest possible terms and we stand firmly alongside him,” said Mallory Carroll, a spokeswoman for the group, which is called the Women Speak Out PAC. “And we will continue through Election Day.”

Abortion has emerged as a touchstone issue in races across America in the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and opened the door to state-level abortion bans.

Mr. Walker appeared on Fox News on Monday hours after the allegations broke, denying the Daily Beast report and explaining away the $700 payment by saying, “I send money to a lot of people.”

“I never asked anyone to get an abortion, I never paid for an abortion,” Mr. Walker said. “Right now, they’ve energized me even more.”

The report was published Monday evening as Mr. Warnock was addressing a Jewish women’s group in Dunwoody, a northern Atlanta suburb, in a speech in which Mr. Warnock drew the loudest applause when he emphasized his support for abortion rights.

Speaking with reporters briefly after the event, Mr. Warnock acknowledged the allegations but quickly pivoted to contrasting his own abortion stance with Mr. Walker’s.

“I’ll let the pundits decide how they think it will impact the race,” Mr. Warnock said. “But I have been consistent in my view that a patient’s room is too narrow a space for a patient, her doctor and the government.”

He added: “I support reproductive health care as a part of health care. My opponent, on the other hand, is talking about a nationwide ban, with no exceptions — that would include rape, incest, the life of the mother.”

Jim Tankersley contributed reporting from Dunwoody, Ga.

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