Georgia Republicans say they remain loyal to Herschel Walker
ATLANTA — Republicans in Georgia knew for months before Herschel Walker launched his Senate campaign that he would pose a huge risk in one of the party’s most crucial races. How clear the risk has become for many of them in recent weeks.
Mr Walker has made a series of missteps and suffered negative media coverage, raising questions about his background and suitability for the job.
He made exaggerated and false claims about his business background and his ties to law enforcement. After repeatedly criticizing absent fathers in black households, he has publicly admitted to having fathered two sons and a daughter with whom he is not in regular contact. And he initially failed, according to reports by The Daily Beast, to share information about those three children with senior campaign aides.
“Herschel Walker, the aspiring U.S. senator, avoids contact — with opponents, with the media, with common sense — like the way Georgia Bulldog fans avoid wedding invitations that drop on game day,” Adam Van Brimmer, opinion writer for the Savannah Morning News, wrote in a recent column. “Walker is not so much running for the US Senate as he is running from it.”
Yet those developments mean little to Republican officials and strategists, several of whom have said in interviews that their support for Mr. Walker has not wavered.
They said he continues to enjoy the support of top Republican leaders in the state at a time when Democrats brace for deadly November midterm losses. Even those in the GOP who are quietly wary of Mr. Walker’s tumultuous past and lack of political experience say they are looking past it all and focusing instead on overturning a Democratic Senate seat.
The Republican Party has backed many scandal-ridden elected officials and candidates, often choosing to break with them only when their chances of winning a race are in jeopardy. For Mr Walker – who enjoys heavy investment from top conservative groups, the blessing of Donald J. Trump and a love base from his football stardom at the University of Georgia in the 1980s – this breakup has not yet materialized.
“I think the Democrats in Georgia have become a lot more excited than the Republicans have worried,” said Randy Evans, former head of Georgia’s Republican National Committee and ambassador to Luxembourg under Mr. Trump.
Some Republicans, however, said they believed Mr Walker would continue to be weakened in the months leading up to the November election. Janelle King, an Atlanta-area Republican political consultant whose husband, Kelvin King, ran against Mr. Walker in the GOP primary, said Mr. King and other unsuccessful Senate candidates made argue that the party had been too blindsided by Mr Walker’s football stardom. to see that his past would be a handicap.
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Now, she says, she wishes they had worked harder to highlight those concerns. As well as a slow drip of negative press, Mr Walker did not attend any of the Republican Senate debates during the primary – something Ms King said she regretted not making a bigger central point of her husband’s campaign.
“We should have demanded to see more of him,” she said. “Because at least we could have sorted out some of these things. So now we’re in the general and everything is coming out fair.
Other party members who are worried about Mr Walker’s past fear it will hurt his standing with the slice of independent and moderate Republican voters who will ultimately decide the race. Some Republicans, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the campaign, said Mr Walker’s staff should have used his lead in the primary to prepare for a much tougher general election by sharpening his oratory skills for debates. against the Democratic incumbent, Senator Raphael Warnock. Mr. Warnock has already committed to attending three debates later this fall. Mr. Walker also agreed to debate but did not name the debates he would attend.
Over the past week, Mr Walker’s campaign has limited his media exposure almost completely, preventing reporters from attending at least two of his events, including one with the Buckhead Atlanta chapter of the Young Republicans and a picnic independence day which was invoice as “open to all” with Representative Andrew Clyde.
“Georgian voters will have a clear choice this fall between Reverend Warnock’s vast record of fighting for all Georgians to reduce costs for hard-working Georgian families and the pattern of lies, exaggerations and assertions. completely bizarre moves by Herschel Walker, all of which show that he is unwilling to represent Georgians in the US Senate,” Meredith Brasher, Mr. Warnock’s communications director, said in a statement.
A recent poll shows a close race between Mr Walker and Mr Warnock. A poll by the Democrat group Data for Progress shows Mr Walker two points ahead of Mr Warnock. At the end of June, a Quinnipiac poll found that Mr Warnock had a ten point lead over Mr Walker – Mr Walker’s campaign claims the margin is much narrower.
Mallory Blount, spokesperson for Mr Walker, said the recent round of headlines had little effect.
“Attacks on our campaign are nothing new and I am sure we will see more,” Ms Blount said in a statement. “What else can Senator Warnock talk about?” Gas prices? Inflation? Crime? Achievements? No. The thing is, Warnock cares more about Joe Biden than he does Georgia — he went to Washington and left Georgia behind.
Those confident about Mr Walker’s prospects say voters don’t pay close attention to negative stories about him or care enough about them to let them change their vote. Last month, at a June 19 event hosted by Mr. Walker’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, voters characterized the negative coverage as little more than political distractions.
“He’s a man. He’s doing well with his family. He’s doing the right thing for the community,” said Ronel Saintvil, a black Republican who lives in metro Atlanta. , for someone to blame him like that, I don’t think it’s fair. They don’t focus on the current issues that affect the Georgian people. And I think that’s what’s most important.
Others say Democrats’ own misfortunes, both nationally and statewide, mitigate concerns about Mr. Walker.
Marci McCarthy, DeKalb County Republican Party chairwoman, cited recent stories about Mr. Warnock’s use of campaign funds for personal legal matters, saying voters are “really not looking for garbage regarding one or the other of the candidates”.
Mr. Walker’s campaign, for its part, has begun to make a number of changes for the fall, including the hiring of a new communications director. Top Republican groups have also made big investments in the race. The Republican National Senate Committee, the campaign arm of the Republican Senate that has spent $8 million in Georgia so far this year, bought $1.4 million in pro-Walker TV airtime this week latest, according to advertising data tracking company, AdImpact.
And as it stands, Mr Walker enjoys the support of the party’s most loyal. In Cherokee County, a Republican stronghold in Georgia that has backed Mr. Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020, GOP leaders plan to hold an event in partnership with the campaign in the coming weeks, according to the chairman of the county party, James Dvorak.
Vernon Jones, the Democrat-turned-Republican Trump who lost his congressional race in Georgia’s dark red 10th district, also entered the fray, saying on Friday he will launch an independent spending committee backing Mr. Walker and Governor Brian Kemp. campaigns. He plans to spend at least $500,000 on radio and digital ads aimed at black male voters over the next four months.
The continued support shows Mr Walker’s strength, his supporters say.
“You’re going to have bumps in the road, and it’s probably best to get those things out sooner rather than later,” said Eric J. Tanenblatt, a Georgia Republican strategist who was chief of staff to former governor Sonny Perdue. “I think when voting starts in the fall, some of these bumps in the road will be resolved. I hope so, for Herschel’s sake.