IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

GOP rallies to Herschel Walker’s side, raising the stakes for race’s outcome

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Republican Senate Candidate Herschel Walker Holds Campaign Rally
Herschel Walker, Republican Senate candidate for Georgia, speaks during a campaign rally in Macon, Ga., on May 18, 2022.Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday ... Russian missiles strike Ukraine cities in retaliation for attack on Crimean bridge. ... Donald Trump, in Arizona, flirts with suggestion that 2022 elections will be rigged, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and Alex Rhoades report. ... Racist remark roils L.A. County Council. ... Republicans escalate attacks on Democrats over crime. ... Eight states begin early voting this week. ... And the 2022 midterms are just 29 days away.

But first: Senate Republicans rallying around embattled Herschel Walker has turned into a monumental moment — For the GOP, the U.S. Senate, and the state of American politics. 

Walker has denied the allegations that he urged an ex-girlfriend to get an abortion after impregnating her and reimbursed her for the procedure; he’s denied asking her to get a second abortion (which she refused); and he had denied even knowing the identity of the woman making these allegations. 

All on top of previous allegations that he held a gun to an ex-wife’s head. 

But on Friday, The Daily Beast reported that Walker’s current wife reached out to Walker’s abortion accuser. And NBC’s Marc Caputo reported Walker finally acknowledging the identity of the woman, who is the mother of one of his four children. 

Nevertheless, Senate Republicans are standing behind their nominee, with Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., set to campaign for Walker on Tuesday. 

Maybe it works. Maybe Walker defeats incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in a state that’s had its recent share of close elections. And maybe political jersey color matters more than anything else — more than qualifications, more than damaging allegations and more than fitness for the job.  

Yet the consequences would be enormous. 

It would mean nothing else matters in our politics besides party ID. It would mean the GOP would support any candidate — no matter the allegations against him — to win control of the U.S. Senate. And it would mean a damaged nominee (who hasn’t been forthcoming about the allegations against him) serving for at least six years in the U.S. Senate. 

It’s a high-risk move for the GOP, putting winning above everything else. 

It’s also a high-risk move for the state of our politics. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 8

That’s the number of states where early voting begins this week, per the National Conference of State Legislatures. That list includes two battleground states: Arizona and Ohio. 

The other states with early voting starting this week include Maine, California, Montana, Nebraska, Indiana, and New Mexico. Early voting is already underway in at least seven states: Virginia, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Vermont, Michigan and Illinois.

Other numbers to know:

8: At least how many people have been killed in Russian strikes on Ukrainian cities (including the capital of Kyiv), a rapidly developing story this morning

2: The number of short-range ballistic missiles North Korea fired towards the sea, per the Associated Press. 

3: How many Senate races the Trump-backed super PAC MAGA Inc launched ads over the weekend, including Senate contests in NevadaOhio and Pennsylvania, per ads tracked by AdImpact. The group also booked time in Arizona and Georgia. 

92: How many Arizona GOP fundraising emails from May to September 2021 mentioned the election audit, per the Washington Post. The party raised $1.1 million over that period, but state GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward wrote in texts at the time that the party had not been raising money to pay for the audit. 

3: The number of U.S.-based economists, including former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, who were awarded the Nobel Prizefor their work on banks.

1 point: The difference between GOP Sen. Ron Johnson and Democrat Mandela Barnes in a new online CBS/YouGov poll, with 50% of respondents backing Johnson and 49% backing Barnes. The same survey found the governor’s race tied. 

6 points: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lead over Republican Tudor Dixon in the same CBS/YouGov poll.

Midterm roundup: Republicans escalate attacks on Democrats over crime

Inflation and the economy may be the centerpiece of the GOP sell to voters ahead of November’s elections. But in recent months, the party has doubled down on the issue of crime, running ads across the country in key races accusing Democratic messaging and policy of failing to combat crime. 

The harshest example of where that rhetoric has led may have come over the weekend, when Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville claimed Democrats were “pro-crime” because “they want to control what you have” and want “reparations” for “the people that do the crime. 

Democrats saw the “soft on crime” attacks coming, and they’ve taken steps to try to immunize themselves — like passing police funding bills and featuring law enforcement officials in ads meant to serve as validation on the issue. 

But as NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald writes, it’s clear those attacks are taking a toll, and it’s not clear whether the Democratic attempt to pre-but the issue will work. 

Read more on

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Georgia Senate: GOP Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas will campaign with Republican Herschel Walker on Tuesday as the Senate nominee tries to weather the storm related to allegations the candidate, who campaigns on his opposition to abortion access, paid for a partner’s abortion. Former President Trump’s new aligned super PAC, MAGA Inc. booked about $1 million on ads there through the next week, per AdImpact. 

North Carolina Senate: USA Today breaks down the Friday debate between Republican Rep. Ted Budd and Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley. 

New Hampshire Senate: The NRSC is cutting $3 million in ad reservations (per AdImpact) after the nomination of the right-wing Don Bolduc tempered the GOP’s previous enthusiasm about flipping this seat. NRSC communications director Chris Hartline told reporters in a statement the decision came after more outside groups stepped up in the state, and NBC’s Allie Raffa and Haley Talbot report that some of that money will be reallocated to the Georgia race. 

Ohio Senate: Republican J.D. Vance’s non-profit “left only the faintest mark” on Ohio, per a New York Times report on the organization. 

Pennsylvania Senate: The Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC launched a new ad targeting Republican Mehmet Oz on abortion. And the New York Times explores whether Lt. Gov. John Fetterman can win over blue-collar voters in GOP counties

Wisconsin Senate: NBC News’ Adam Edelman reports that crime and abortion were the hottest issues during the first debatebetween GOP Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. 

Arizona Governor: Republican Kari Lake was removed from Democrat Katie Hobbs’ town hall event, NBC News’ Marc Caputo reports, for not staying in a hold room while Hobbs was going to be speaking. The episode comes as Hobbs has refused to debate Lake, a decision Hobbs reiterated during an interview on Sunday with CBS

Michigan Governor: The Michigan GOP launched its first ad buy of the governor’s race, reserving $3.5 million on the airwaves, per AdImpact. 

Nevada Secretary of State: Some Democrats are concerned that recent polling is showing election-denying Republican Jim Marchanttoo close for comfort against Democrat Cisco Aguilar, NBC News’ Adam Edelman reports from Las Vegas. 

Illinois-17: Politico reports that, despite Democrats controlling the Illinois redistricting process, they still risk losing an open House seat in the 17th District. 

Ad watch: Down to the wire in Colorado

new ad by Joe O’Dea, Colorado’s Republican nominee for Senate, tells viewers, “Democrats are spending millions trying to smear Joe O’Dea.”

“Why?” the narrator asks, “Because career politician Michael Bennet is their yes man. Joe O’Dea is his own man.”

It’s the latest in O’Dea’s line of attack against Bennet, a Democrat running for his third full term. O’Dea still hasn’t caught up to Bennet in ad spending, though. Bennet has spent over $6 million on ads since the June primary, while O’Dea has spent just over $2 million, according to AdImpact.

Still, Republicans have coalesced around O’Dea, aiming to flip Colorado’s Senate seat in November. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to Senate Republican leadership, is spending $1.25 million in the race in O’Dea’s favor, Politico reports. The non-partisan Cook Political Report rates the race “Lean Democrat.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Justice Department’s sex trafficking investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz seems stalled, attorneys tell NBC News. 

The Washington Post explores whether women and the issue of abortion access will be deciders in next month’s midterms.