WASHINGTON — National Republicans are rushing to defend Herschel Walker in the wake of a bombshell report that the Senate candidate in the hotly contested battleground state of Georgia paid for a woman’s abortion in 2009.
Walker, who is running as a staunchly anti-abortion candidate, has denied the account the woman made in a story published Monday by The Daily Beast. The allegations nevertheless upended one of the nation’s most competitive races, with Walker’s son Christian Walker subsequently excoriating his father as a liar and a hypocrite in Twitter posts and videos.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, stood by Walker on Tuesday in an aggressive statement describing the report as a smear — without saying which parts were false.
“When the Democrats are losing, as they are right now, they lie and cheat and smear their opponents. That’s what’s happening right now. They know they are on the verge of losing the Senate, and they know that Herschel Walker is winning, so they have cranked up the smear machine,” Scott said. “Herschel has denied these allegations and the NRSC and Republicans stand with him, and Georgians will stand with him too.”
The top-spending Republican super PAC in Senate races is also refusing to ditch Walker, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in November.
“We are full speed ahead in Georgia,” said Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, an outside spending group closely aligned with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. “This election is about the future of the country — Herschel Walker will make things better, Raphael Warnock is making it worse. Anything else is a distraction.”
And former President Donald Trump, who had encouraged Walker to seek the Senate seat, asserted in a Tuesday afternoon statement posted to his social media site that the former football star was "being slandered and maligned."
"Herschel has properly denied the charges against him, and I have no doubt he is correct. They are trying to destroy a man who has true greatness in his future, just as he had athletic greatness in his past," wrote Trump, who survived an October surprise of his own in his 2016 presidential run: the surfacing of an old "Access Hollywood" tape in which he was heard bragging about sexually assaulting women.
The swift decision by Republican leaders to rally around Walker’s turbulent candidacy is the product of the enormous stakes of the Senate race in Georgia. The state was crucial in the 2020 election cycle at giving Democrats the majority and could decide control of the chamber again this fall. Disowning Walker would be akin to ceding the race, GOP operatives fear, as they see little chance of capturing the Senate majority without Georgia amid growing pessimism about other pickup opportunities like Arizona and New Hampshire.
On Monday, The Daily Beast reported that a woman who said she used to date Walker had an abortion at his urging after he got her pregnant. The woman requested anonymity, citing privacy concerns. Walker paid for the procedure, according to the woman, who provided the news organization with what she said was a receipt for the procedure and an image of the check Walker sent as reimbursement. The Daily Beast also reported that it corroborated the woman's story with a friend whom she told at the time. NBC News has not verified the details of the story or seen the documents. Reached for comment, the Walker campaign referred to his statement on Twitter calling the report “a flat out lie” and saying he plans to sue the outlet. (The Daily Beast stood by the story.)
At least two major anti-abortion rights groups are sticking with Walker.
“Hershel Walker has denied these allegations in the strongest possible terms and we stand firmly alongside him,” said Mallory Carroll, spokesperson for the Women Speak Out PAC, the super PAC aligned with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “To date, our Georgia field team has visited more than 310,000 homes across the state in support of pro-life candidates like Herschel and against the extremism of Sen. Warnock and [Democratic nominee for governor] Stacy Abrams, and we will continue through Election Day.”
And in a statement Tuesday, National Right to Life called the allegations "attempted Democratic character assassinations."
Privately, some Republicans are expressing concern about the abortion allegation.
One national GOP operative, who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity, said the report that Walker paid for an abortion was “not great,” but that it was “too soon” to say how it would affect voters given that his “speckled” past has been well documented.
Monday’s allegations are the latest in a series of questions about Walker’s honesty and character. He has been accused of threatening to kill his ex-wife — Cindy Grossman, Christian Walker’s mother — and other violent episodes against women dating to at least 2001, according to police records obtained by NBC News and other outlets. Walker was never criminally charged. But he and Grossman discussed several incidents publicly after Walker’s 2008 memoir described his being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, or DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
Walker, a frequent critic of absentee fathers, also has two children he had not disclosed publicly until other Daily Beast reports this year. Walker is running on a platform of "family values," declaring on his website that he is "pro-life and pro-family."
Warnock’s Democratic allies have made the threats against Grossman central to ads attacking Walker.
Despite the institutional and special-interest support behind Walker, there were signs Tuesday of concern in some GOP corners.
“I’d largely thought Walker could pull this off despite his baggage. I’ll see what sort of response he mounts, but given text messages tonight, Georgia GOP’ers are praying for Dr. Oz to win,” Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator influential in Georgia Republican politics, tweeted. “Walker hasn’t mounted a good response to any attack, and this is brutal, probably a KO.”
Martha Zoller, the executive director of Georgia Life Alliance, an affiliate of National Right to Life, told NBC News that while she has her doubts about The Daily Beast story, she also has questions and concerns. She said she has invited Walker on to a radio show she hosts to discuss the topic more.
Zoller, a past Republican candidate for Congress in Georgia, added that she found Christian Walker's statements particularly troubling.
“I think he’s telling his truths, that’s for sure,” Zoller said of Walker's son.
Meanwhile, Cody Hall, an adviser to Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who is focused on his own re-election bid, sidestepped the issue Tuesday, saying in a statement that Kemp is "laser focused on sharing his record of results and vision for his second term with hardworking Georgians, and raising the resources necessary to fund the advertising, ground game, and voter turnout operation needed to ensure Republican victories up and down the ballot on November 8th.”
One GOP strategist laid blame on Trump, who has a longtime friendship with Walker. In the 1980s, the former president owned a United States Football League franchise for which Walker played.
“Since President Trump hasn’t spent a penny thus far to help his slate of flawed endorsed candidates, he could have at least spent a few bucks to vet them first,” said the strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about intraparty dynamics. “It would have saved Trump from the embarrassment of what’s shaping up to be a very bad election night for his candidates.”