Georgia Republicans say they stand by Herschel Walker

ATLANTA — Georgia Republicans knew months before Herschel Walker launched his Senate campaign that he would pose a major risk in one of the party’s most important races. How great the risk is has become clear to many of them in recent weeks.

Mr Walker has stumbled through a series of missteps and endured negative media coverage, raising questions about his past and his suitability for the post.

He made exaggerated and untrue claims about his business background and law enforcement connections. After repeatedly criticizing absentee fathers in black households, he publicly admitted fathering two sons and a daughter with whom he is not in regular contact. And he initially failed to share information about those three children with older campaign workers, according to The Daily Beast.

“Herschel Walker, the would-be US Senator, avoids contact — with opponents, with the media, with common sense — like the way Georgia Bulldog fans dodge wedding invitations that fall on a game day,” Adam Van Brimmer, Opinion Editor for the Savannah Morning News, wrote in a recent column. “Walker is running less for the US Senate than before.”

But these developments have mattered little to Republican officials and strategists, some of whom have said in interviews that their support for Mr. Walker has not wavered.

They said he continued to have the support of the state’s top Republican leaders at a time when Democrats are bracing for bruises in November’s midterm elections. Even those in the GOP who are quietly suspicious of Mr Walker’s tumultuous past and his lack of political experience say they are looking past it all and are instead focusing on flipping a Democratic Senate seat.

The Republican Party has stood by scores of elected officials and candidates beset by scandal, often choosing to break with them only when their chances of winning the election are in jeopardy. For Mr. Walker — who comes with hefty investments from conservative top flight, Donald J. Trump’s blessing and a base wowed by his University of Georgia soccer stardom in the 1980s — that rupture has yet to happen.

“I think Georgia Democrats are a lot more excited than Republicans are worried,” said Randy Evans, a former chair of the Republican National Committee in Georgia and ambassador to Luxembourg under Mr Trump.

However, some Republicans said they believe Mr Walker will continue to be weak in the months leading up to the November election. Janelle King, an Atlanta-area Republican political adviser whose husband Kelvin King ran against Mr. Walker in the GOP primary, said Mr. King and other unsuccessful Senate candidates argued the party had been too blinded by Mr. Walker’s football star to see that his past would be a liability.

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What are the midterm elections? Midterms occur two years after a presidential election, in the middle of a presidential term—hence the name. There are many seats up for grabs this year, including all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate and 36 of 50 governorships.

What do the midterms mean for Biden? With slim majorities in Congress, Democrats are struggling to pass Mr. Biden’s agenda. Republican control of the House or Senate would make the president’s legislative goals all but impossible.

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Now, she said, she wishes they had worked harder to highlight those concerns. In addition to a slow drip of negative press, Mr Walker did not participate in any of the Republican Senate debates during the primary – something Ms King said she regrets not putting more emphasis on her husband’s campaign.

“We should have demanded to see more of him,” she said. “Because we could have at least cleared up some of those things. So now we’re in general and everything just comes out.”

Others in the party who are concerned about Mr. Walker’s past fear it will tarnish his reputation as the group of independent and moderate Republican voters 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 during the primary to prepare for a much tougher general election by using his public speaking skills for the debates raised against the Democratic incumbent, Senator Raphael Warnock. Mr Warnock has already committed to taking part in three debates later this autumn. Mr Walker has also agreed to a debate but has not identified the debates he will be attending.

Over the past week, Mr. Walker’s campaign has almost completely curtailed his media exposure, barring reporters from attending at least two of his events, including one featuring the Buckhead Atlanta chapter of young Republicans and an Independence Day picnic that was billed as “open to everyone.” with MP Andrew Clyde.

“Georgia voters this fall will have a stark choice between Reverend Warnock’s sweeping campaign for all Georgians to bring down the costs of hard-working Georgia families and Herschel Walker’s pattern of lies, exaggeration and downright bizarre claims all show that he is not prepared to represent Georgians in the US Senate,” Meredith Brasher, Mr Warnock’s communications director, said in a statement.

Recent polls show a close race between Mr Walker and Mr Warnock. A poll by Democrat group Data for Progress shows Mr Walker a two-point lead over Mr Warnock. In late June, a Quinnipiac poll showed Mr Warnock had a ten-point lead over Mr Walker – Mr Walker’s campaign claimed the lead was much smaller.

Mallory Blount, a spokeswoman for Mr Walker, said recent headlines had had little effect.

“Attacks on our campaign are not new and I’m sure we’ll see more,” Ms Blount said in a statement. “What else can Sen. Warnock talk about? fuel prices? Inflation? Crime? achievements? nope The fact is, Warnock cares more about Joe Biden than Georgia — he went to Washington and left Georgia behind.”

Those who are confident in Mr Walker’s prospects say voters either don’t pay much attention to negative stories about him or don’t care enough about them to change their vote. Last month, at a June 16 event hosted by Mr. Walker’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, voters called the negative reporting little more than a political distraction.

“He’s a man. He’s doing the right thing with his family. He’s doing the right thing for the community,” said Ronel Saintvil, a black Republican who lives in the Atlanta metro area. “I don’t think it’s right, when someone just talks bad about them like that. They don’t focus on the current issues that are affecting the people of Georgia. And I think that’s more important.”

Others say Democrats’ own concerns, both national and statewide, are dampening concerns about Mr Walker.

Marci McCarthy, leader of the DeKalb County Republican Party, cited recent reports about Mr Warnock’s use of campaign funds for personal legal matters and said voters “really aren’t looking for the garbage about either candidate”.

For its part, Mr Walker’s campaign has begun to make a number of changes in preparation for the autumn, including the hiring of a new communications director. Top Republican groups have also made large investments in the race. The National Republican Senatorial 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 last week, according to the promotional data- Tracking company AdImpact.

And in the state, Mr. Walker enjoys the support of those most loyal to the party. In Cherokee County, a Georgia Republican stronghold that backed Mr Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020, GOP leaders plan to host an event in partnership with the campaign in the coming weeks, according to county party leader James Dvorak .

Vernon Jones, the Democrat-turned-Trump Republican who lost his congressional race in Georgia’s deep red 10th District, has also weighed in on the fight, announcing on Friday that he will set up an independent spending committee to oversee that of Mr Walker and Governor Brian Kemp supports campaigns. He plans to spend at least $500,000 on radio and digital advertising targeting 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 better to get those things out of the way as soon as possible,” said Eric J. Tanenblatt, a Republican strategist from Georgia who was a former governor’s chief of staff. Sonny Perdue. “I think by the time voting starts in the fall, some of those bumps in the road will have been worked out. I hope so, for Herschel’s sake.”