SAVANNAH, Ga. — Another shoe dropped in the unfolding drama involving Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker when The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that the ex-girlfriend whose abortion he is alleged to have paid for in 2009 is also the mother of one of his four children.
But the next day, neither candidate wanted to talk about it.
Walker, who supports a ban on abortion without any exceptions, issued another blanket denial when asked about The Daily Beast’s reporting Thursday, telling reporters after a campaign event in Wadley: “The abortion thing is false. It’s a lie.”
“The Democrats are desperate for this seat. This seat is important. They’re very desperate for this seat,” Walker said.
His Democratic opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, sidestepped two questions from NBC News here about whether he believes Walker's denials and whether he thinks Georgians can trust Walker. Warnock then pivoted to his support for abortion rights, saying, “The people of Georgia need a senator who will stand with women.”
Warnock and Walker gave their stump speeches at dueling rallies Thursday. Walker spoke of getting his start playing football in Johnson County and then making his way to the University of Georgia and pro football. Warnock mentioned his roots as a Baptist preacher and highlighted his policy achievements over the past two years in the Senate, from the family tax credit in the American Rescue Plan to a highway amendment he co-wrote with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. He said that if he is re-elected he will fight to expand Medicaid in Georgia.
Neither mentioned the abortion allegations, the latest in a string of reports about Walker's turbulent past that include claims of domestic violence and threats against his former wife. Walker was never criminally charged, and in a recent ad he says he had a “battle with mental health” issues that he has “overcome.”
Warnock treaded cautiously when he was asked about those issues.
“What we are hearing about my opponent is disturbing. And I think the people of Georgia have a real choice about who they think is ready to represent them in the United States Senate," Warnock told reporters Thursday, without directly addressing the abortion story.
The Daily Beast reported that it corroborated details of the woman’s abortion accusation with a close friend whom “she told at the time and who, according to the woman and her friend, took care of her in the days after the procedure.” It also published what the woman said was a “get well” card signed by Walker and said she had provided both the receipt from the abortion clinic and a bank deposit showing an image of Walker’s check reimbursing her for the procedure. The Daily Beast said it did not identify the woman to protect her privacy.
Walker denied the story and said he planned to sue the site for defamation.
The detente is a product of several factors. Warnock's visible discomfort with personal politics makes him reluctant to go negative on his rival. Warnock's allies, meanwhile, see the question more as a battle between Walker and Georgia voters — why give his opponent a chance to bring him into the story?
Instead, outside Democratic groups have taken on the role of attack dog and are watching the story unfold in search of opportunities to get involved. Beyond that, Warnock's core voters seem to prefer he keep his focus elsewhere.
At a rally in Savannah, where Warnock was born and raised, Arlene Gioia said she wants him to “stay out the drama” about Walker's past. “It’s not important at all,” she said, waving a Warnock sign before he took the stage. What’s “very important” to her is Democrats’ holding the Senate and fighting GOP "extremism."
Maggie Hickey, 24, a bartender and student, agreed that Warnock should not try to exploit the story. “It’s harmful bringing that up — bringing up a woman’s old pain,” she said, calling the Walker revelations “not surprising” but “unfortunate.”
“He’s famous,” she said of Walker. “I guess that’s what he’s running on.”
'Death from a thousand cuts'
The report that Walker paid for an abortion, which NBC News has not independently verified, elevates themes of character and political hypocrisy in one of the country's most competitive races this fall. Walker is “pro-life and pro-family,” he proclaims on his campaign website. He is running on a staunchly anti-abortion platform, aligning with those who believe that terminating a pregnancy is akin to murder.
Yet it remains to be seen how much the story will reshape a calcified political environment in which a large majority of voters appear immovable, particularly if neither candidate wants to discuss it. National Republicans and anti-abortion rights groups have rallied around Walker in the wake of the reports, and so far there is little evidence core GOP voters here are moved by it. Republicans have also pointed to previous allegations by Warnock's ex-wife of mistreatment and a child custody dispute between the two.
The stakes are sky-high, as the race could decide control of the Senate, which is split 50-50 and run by Democrats with the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
“I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only, at this point,” conservative radio host Dana Loesch said on her show this week. “So I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles — I want control of the Senate.”
Georgia is a hypercompetitive state where small shifts can prove decisive: In 2020, Joe Biden carried the state by less than 12,000 votes, and Democrats later won two Senate races by 2 percentage points or less.
“This latest revelation maybe won’t move hundreds of thousands of votes, but maybe it moves tens of thousands who would otherwise vote for Herschel Walker — and either vote for the Democrat or skip over this contest,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, where Walker played college football and won the national championship and the Heisman Trophy.
Bullock said the story contributes to a “death from a thousand cuts” scenario for Walker, who is running behind Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and other GOP statewide candidates as his honesty and character are increasingly questioned.
“For people largely in the suburbs — white, college-educated — for some of them, this becomes the last straw,” he said.
But those in Walker's orbit insist the story will fizzle out.
“No one is impacted by this at all. It’s not going to move the needle,” said a Walker adviser, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “And the Democrats are going to lose their f---ing minds when it doesn’t.”