But the GOP has no choice but to double down on its support for Walker — a flawed candidate party operatives say remains one of their last hopes of overthrowing control of the tightly-divided Senate chamber this year in middle of a shrinking map.
“When Democrats lose, as they are right now, they lie, cheat and smear their opponents,” the senator said. Rick Scott, the chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee said on Tuesday, echoing in his statement similar comments from other Republicans who dared to publicly weigh in on the allegations, although most incumbents remained silent on the issue at home for Senate recess. The claims were reported by the Daily Beast on Monday; POLITICO has not independently verified the Daily Beast’s reporting.
“That’s what’s happening right now,” Scott continued. “They know they’re about to lose the Senate, and they know Herschel Walker is winning, so they started the smear machine.”
Scott, putting on a brave face — similar to Republicans’ Senate chairman super PAC — said the Senate committee remained fully engaged in the race in Georgia, where the NRSC announced last week that it was sharing a new ad buy from $8.5 million with the Walker campaign. Scott compared the situation to the sexual assault and harassment allegations made against Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas, and suggested he believed Walker’s denial of the claim that he paid the abortion of the woman 13 years ago.
While admitting that the latest allegation presented a public relations problem, in interviews with more than a dozen Republican strategists, officers downplayed its likely effect. They suggested a wait-and-see approach and largely avoided admitting that Georgia’s first upset in October ended Walker’s chances.
A top Republican strategist working on the Senate races said it remains to be seen how much the new revelation will matter, noting extensive media coverage of Walker’s alleged domestic abuse and TV ads that have already attacked him. On the question.
“The reality is that Democrats have been running ads for two months saying Herschel tried to murder his ex-wife,” the strategist said of Cindy Grossman’s claims that Walker was pointing a gun at her head. “I don’t know if that moves the needle.”
Through a spokesperson, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has repeatedly expressed concern about the GOP’s “quality of nominees” this year — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A recent poll shows that Walker and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock constantly swapping leads in a race with room for error. Walker was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who defended his ally in a statement: “They are trying to destroy a man who has true greatness in his future, just like he had athletic greatness in his past. It is very important to our country and the great state of Georgia that Herschel Walker wins this election.
To date this cycle, Republicans have spent $67 million on ads in Georgia, according to ad-tracking firm AdImpact, a state they’ve seen as one of their best opportunities to flip a Senate seat. . The GOP still has $34 million in ads reserved during the election, putting Democrats on track to spend them more than $20 million.
Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the conservative evangelical Faith & Freedom coalition, which in recent months has defended Walker and his commitment to his Christian faith, continued to do so on Tuesday, saying that “a 13-year-old anonymous allegation is little likely”. to resonate with Georgian voters.
“Voters are much more likely to vote based on inflation, the economy, high gas prices and the failure of Biden’s policies, which Raphael Warnock has backed 96% of the time,” he said. said Reed, naming Walker’s Democratic opponent. He added that “Warnock is linked to Biden.”
“That will matter more than the personal attacks on Herschel, which haven’t materially changed the dynamics of this campaign.”
On whether the revelations could impact Republicans nationwide, Jahan Wilcox, a GOP strategist who has previously worked for several senators and as a national press secretary for the NRSC, said this will not be the case.
“The midterm elections are and always have been a referendum on the current White House, and voters will judge President Biden on how he has handled inflation, energy prices and crime,” said Wilcox.
Kevin Bell, a volunteer with several local GOP groups in Georgia, said he doesn’t think voter sentiment will change as a result of this week’s development.
“It will only fuel the fire for those who didn’t want to vote for him in the first place,” said Bell, who plans to continue his door-to-door canvassing for Walker. “That’s it. And those on the fence, they might have to think about it a little more. But at the end of the day, those strong supporters will always vote for Herschel Walker. I guarantee.”
While expressing concerns about the lack of large-scale state-level operations to secure the vote, Republicans are encouraged by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s own voter mobilization efforts. Kemp, who is up for re-election and voting well ahead of Walker, was keen to target GOP voters who sat in 2020 and the state Senate runoff in January 2021 following Trump’s refuted claims. of a rigged election.
But Republicans expect Democrats to seize on Walker’s latest scandal in a fresh barrage of ads, including highlighting scathing criticism from Walker’s own 22-year-old son after the abortion news broke.
“What I would do if I was a Democrat is I would call it a fraud,” said a GOP consultant who has worked on Senate races. “Voters hate the lack of authenticity. He built his entire post-NFL life on being a Christian and being a good person.
GOP consultant Chris Mottola noted voter polarization in Georgia, a state that, unlike Nevada, Arizona and other major battlegrounds, does not have a large share of swing voters. and independents.
“Given the surprise nature of the October attack, voters will raise questions about the validity — think of it as Hunter Biden’s laptop in utero,” Mottola said.
A possible sign of the media attention given to the news, the Republican Party of Georgia’s website, which was functioning Tuesday morning, was no longer accessible as of 10:30 a.m., resulting in a “502 Bad Gateway” error. It included contact information for party and county presidents.
Danielle Repass, press secretary for the Republican Party of Georgia, said the site “just experiences a server error, it wasn’t taken down intentionally” and that the state GOP “hopes to have it restored by the end of the day.” end of the day”.
She added that the Republican Party of Georgia is “fully committed to having Herschel Walker defeat Raphael Warnock in November.”
Senate Leadership Fund Chairman Steven Law said Tuesday morning that the super PAC is moving “full speed in Georgia,” where it has earmarked $23 million in television and radio ads through Election Day.
The top Republican spending group, closely aligned with McConnell, has already spent $15.5 million on the race, according to AdImpact.
“This election is about the future of the country,” Law said in a statement. “Herschel Walker will make it better, Raphael Warnock makes it worse. Everything else is a distraction.
And leading anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, which backed Walker and went door-to-door on his behalf, also continues to support him.
Mallory Carroll, spokesperson for the group’s Women Speak Out super PAC, said Walker had “denied these allegations in the strongest terms possible.”
“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 extremism Senators Warnock and Stacey Abrams, and we will continue until Election Day,” Carroll said.
A Republican strategist, however, predicted the chances of a leak between Walker and Warnock were rising amid the latest scrutiny. Another noted that Democrats have thrown tens of millions “of punches and attacks at Herschel so far, and Warnock still can’t hit 50% in any poll.”
Sen. John Corny (R-Texas), a former NRSC chairman who also backs Walker, called the “personal attacks – all too common in political campaigns” a “deflecting threats to the economic, personal and national security of Georgians, which the Democratic majority got worse, not better.
Barring dramatic swings in the polls, which Republicans don’t expect, the party is likely to continue pumping resources into the state, rather than diverting money to other major battlegrounds.
“You have to play in Georgia,” said the Republican strategist who suggested Democrats should call Walker a fraud. “You have to do it to get to 51.”
Holly Otterbein and Brittany Gibson contributed to this report.