Herschel Walker, the former National Football League star who has staked his campaign for the US Senate on calls for a national abortion ban, is facing fresh controversy following a report that he paid a former girlfriend to end her pregnancy in 2009.
The developments, along with criticism from his own son, raise further questions about Walker’s candidacy in the crucial swing state of Georgia with just over one month to go until the midterm elections, which will serve as a referendum on Joe Biden’s presidency and determine which political party controls Congress.
Walker is just one of several Republican Senate candidates who have courted controversy in recent months, dividing a party that is still grappling with how to position itself with Donald Trump no longer in the White House.
Despite widespread expectations that the Republicans would be in pole position heading into the midterms, the latest opinion polls show GOP Senate candidates trailing by several points in multiple swing states, including Arizona and Pennsylvania.
“All Republicans had to do is be normal,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and Trump critic. “Instead they have chosen a lot of candidates who are not traditional Republicans, to put it mildly, but are often kind of cartoon characters.”
Walker, a political novice who is challenging incumbent Democratic senator Raphael Warnock in Georgia, came under criticism earlier this year following revelations that he fathered several previously undisclosed children. Several senior Republican lawmakers had raised red flags about the football star’s vulnerabilities as a candidate, but he launched his campaign last year at the urging of Trump.
One of Walker’s children, Christian Walker, attacked his father on social media after The Daily Beast published a story late on Monday alleging Herschel Walker had paid an ex-girlfriend to have an abortion, saying his father was “not a ‘family man’” and had threatened to kill him and his mother, Cindy DeAngelis Grossman. Grossman, Herschel Walker’s ex-wife, has previously said her ex-husband held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. He has not denied that allegation and said he was suffering from mental health issues at the time.
On Monday, Walker, who has campaigned for a national abortion ban without exceptions, including in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother, released a statement in response to The Daily Beast story, calling it a “flat-out lie” that he denied “in the strongest possible terms”, and vowed to sue the publisher. He did not respond to his son’s latest allegations, but later said on Twitter: “I LOVE my son no matter what.”
The most recent controversies come as Walker and Warnock are polling neck-and-neck in a critical race that will help determine which party controls the upper chamber of Congress for the next two years. The latest Real Clear Politics polling average shows the two men in a statistical tie, with Warnock leading by less than one point. By contrast, the Republican governor in Georgia, Brian Kemp, leads his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, by 6.6 points, according to Real Clear Politics.
Andra Gillespie, a political-science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said the latest reports could lead to “ticket splitting” next month, with some conservative voters backing Kemp for governor but either not voting in the Senate race, or backing Warnock instead.
“The big question is: will moderate Republicans, will independent voters, will the type of voter who normally votes Republican in elections but couldn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2020 . . . view Walker as damaged goods and not up to the job?” Gillespie said. She added that while most Republicans would likely stick with Walker, Democrats needed only to convince a “small sliver of the electorate” to secure victory.
But Heye cautioned that controversial candidates — including Trump himself — have triumphed in recent election cycles.
“Democrats are going to tell you his race is over. Those same Democrats . . . said that about Donald Trump on [the] Friday afternoon that the Access Hollywood tape came out,” Heye said, in reference to a video of Trump bragging about groping women that leaked just one month before the 2016 presidential election.
“Our politics have only gotten more tribal [since then],” Heye added.
On Tuesday, Trump released a statement on the furore surrounding Walker, saying: “Herschel Walker is being slandered and maligned by the Fake News Media and obviously, the Democrats. Interestingly, I’ve heard many horrible things about his opponent, Raphael Warnock, things that nobody should be talking about, so we don’t.”