Republicans have had a public and private lament over the past few months, and they’re probably correct: Were it not for the candidates GOP voters nominated in key races, the party would be on a much easier path to taking back control of the Senate. Instead, those voters gave them Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters in Arizona, and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, all of whom beat out more mainstream Republicans and all of whom are polling behind Democratic opponents in swing states.
But with new revelations reported Tuesday night, Herschel Walker solidified his status as the latest example of the GOP’s candidate-quality problem.
Walker was certainly in the running before the Daily Beast reported Tuesday that the staunchly anti-abortion rights University of Georgia and NFL football star paid for a former girlfriend’s abortion in 2009. His celebrity and Donald Trump’s encouragement were enough to win his primary, despite a troubled history that included policy gaffes and domestic violence allegations. Since then, there have been more bombshells. After the Daily Beast story dropped Tuesday, Walker’s son Christian Walker posted a thread on Twitter alleging that his father “threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months running from [his] violence.”
When confronted about domestic violence allegations, Walker has said he is “accountable” for actions that transpired in his marriage with now-ex-wife Cindy Grossman, while avoiding specifics. Walker has also said that he does not remember certain incidents, citing his struggles with dissociative identity disorder, which includes memory loss. He has denied the Daily Beast report in the “strongest possible terms,” calling it a “flat out lie” and threatening to sue the publication. The Walker campaign did not immediately respond to Vox for a request for comment.
Georgia is a particularly bad place for Republicans to have a bad candidate. As Republicans stare down a competitive map to retake Senate control, their hopes of flipping seats rest on states like Nevada and Georgia. Walker’s myriad issues are now threatening their chances in a place that should be otherwise gettable for the party. While other Republicans, like Gov. Brian Kemp and lieutenant governor nominee Burt Jones, have consistently led in the polls, Walker has recently trailed Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock.
It’s far from clear that Walker’s baggage will be decisive in the race. Partisanship runs deep in Georgia, and Republican voters showed with their Trump support in recent years that they are willing to overlook personal hypocrisy for a GOP win. Walker has been running a close race even with his previously known weaknesses. But it doesn’t help him, or Republicans’ national Senate hopes.
“Walker’s vague, sometimes incoherent answers on policy questions, his history of domestic violence — these are all things that make him a less-than-ideal candidate,” says Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie. “If the Republican nominee had been the state agriculture commissioner, I suspect that the race would still be competitive, but he might have been performing in the vicinity of Brian Kemp.”
The revelations about Walker, briefly explained
Questions about whether Herschel Walker was prepared for a campaign began even before he jumped into the Republican primary, when Trump was encouraging him to join the race.
“I know national Republican leaders who spoke to him and expressed skepticism about his ability to run a campaign and raise funds,” says Ralph Reed, a friend of Walker’s and former chair of the Georgia Republican Party, who argues that those critiques “underestimated” Walker’s ability to win.
Broadly, news reports about Walker have underscored hypocrisy on issues like abortion as well as his critiques of absentee fathers, raising questions about his consistency and commitment to socially conservative policies. Additionally, domestic violence and stalking allegations have pointed to concerns about his character and past treatment of romantic partners and family members.
Some of the issues that have emerged:
Domestic violence and stalking allegations: Walker has faced domestic violence allegations from multiple women, including two he was allegedly romantically involved with. Grossman, his ex-wife, has accused him of threatening to kill her on two occasions, once while he held a gun to her head and once holding a razor to her throat. A judge had previously granted a protective order to Grossman, noting that Walker posed “a clear and present danger of family violence.” Walker has not denied these incidents but said he does not recall them, pointing to his struggles with mental health and dissociative identity disorder, which can include memory loss as a symptom. As PolitiFact notes, Walker has not been arrested or charged with a crime.
Walker and Grossman have both spoken about these allegations prior to the campaign in interviews with ABC and CNN in 2008. Walker has also written about the challenges he’s faced with dissociative identity disorder in a 2008 book, which describes the potential for violent thoughts. “He has owned up, apologized, gotten treatment and since dedicated his life to sharing his story to help others,” the campaign said in a statement to PolitiFact about past incidents of domestic violence.
Another woman that Walker was involved with has also accused him of threatening to kill her, while a third woman has accused him of stalking her, both allegations that his campaign denied to PolitiFact. Walker’s son Christian also referenced threats of violence that he and his mother, Grossman, faced in his Twitter thread this week.
On the Democratic side, Warnock has faced allegations of domestic violence from his ex-wife, Ouleye Ndoye, as well. Previously, she accused him of running over her foot during an argument, which he has denied. PolitiFact notes that medical professionals did not see injuries to Ndoye’s foot at the time.
Past actions on abortion: The Daily Beast story alleges that Walker covered the cost of a former girlfriend’s abortion in 2009 when they were dating, something that was not previously publicly known. As proof, she provided a receipt for the procedure, a photo of a check signed by Walker, and a “get well” card that was sent at the time.
Walker has taken one of the hardest-line stances on abortion of any Republican candidate, expressing his support for a ban that does not include exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. “I just can’t with the hypocrisy anymore,” the woman, who requested anonymity to protect her privacy, told the Daily Beast. Walker has flatly denied the report.
Comments on absentee fathers: In the past, Walker has criticized absentee fathers, though multiple news reports have now suggested that he has at least one child he does not see. In addition to his adult son, Christian, Walker has three children he didn’t acknowledge publicly before they were reported on, including at least one he appeared to play little role in raising, according to the Daily Beast. “I support them all and love them all. I’ve never denied my children,” Walker has previously said. Another Daily Beast report described how Walker had lied to his campaign about the existence of his children, suggesting that some of his own staffers viewed him as a liability.
Misrepresentation of past achievements: Walker has faced questions over exaggerations about his achievements and record, including about his graduation from the University of Georgia, his experience in law enforcement, the scale of his food business, and the charitable donations made by his company. Walker had left the University of Georgia in his junior year in order to play football professionally. He also stated that he had worked in law enforcement, when there is not a clear record of that. Past claims he’s made about the size of his business and the amount of money it was donating to charities also have little evidence backing them up.
Policy gaffes: There are several comments Walker has made that have spurred questions about his policy experience. He previously argued that “clean air” from the US floated to China and defeated the purpose of investments to address such pollution, a statement that’s counter to scientific evidence. Additionally, he suggested that inflation was a women’s issue because “they’ve got to buy groceries,” a statement that prompted pushback for its sexist framing.
Voter concerns about Walker have been evident in polling: A September CBS News survey found that 58 percent of Georgia respondents said they liked how Warnock handled himself personally, while just 42 percent felt the same about Walker.
The impact they could have in Georgia
Walker’s issues could potentially cost Republicans the Senate seat in Georgia, though there are still some factors that are working in his favor.
For one, there are national trends that could bode well for all Republican candidates. The party in power typically faces a backlash in the midterms that could be further exacerbated by the president’s unpopularity. In a September Civiqs poll, just 36 percent of Georgia respondents said they approved of the job President Joe Biden was doing, compared to 43 percent who do so nationwide, according to a FiveThirtyEight survey aggregator. A majority of Georgia’s likely voters also rate cost of living, jobs, and the economy as the most important issues in the upcoming election in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, with many conservatives blaming Biden and Democrats for driving prices up.
“People are going to vote with their pocketbooks and wallets, not so much on the emotional side of things. They are being affected by inflation, gas prices, and now you have interest rates going up,” says Marci McCarthy, the chair of the DeKalb County Republicans.
Some voters may also be willing to overlook Walker’s flaws because they’re interested in seeing a Republican Senate majority that will check a Democratic administration. Because it is one of the few seats that is considered a true swing state, the Georgia Senate race could determine which party secures a majority. The CBS News poll highlighted this dynamic: 72 percent of Walker voters said they were backing him in order to oppose Biden, and 86 percent said they were doing so to help Republicans gain control of the Senate.
Walker’s celebrity status as a football player in the state may also help insulate him with certain voters. Walker won the Heisman Trophy while he was a running back at the University of Georgia, where he helped the school secure a national championship.
“Not only Georgia, but Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, we really do love our football,” says Camilla Moore, the chair of the Georgia Black Republican Council, who noted that people will “always view Herschel as that champion with the Georgia Bulldogs.”
Beyond national trends, the state’s Republican lean could also benefit Walker. Although demographic changes in Georgia, including an influx of Black, Latino, and Asian American voters — along with aggressive turnout efforts led by gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams — have helped make the electorate more friendly to Democrats, experts say Republicans hold a narrow edge. If Republicans are able to mobilize their voters in higher numbers than the 2020 turnout, that could contribute to pushing Walker over the top.
“I think the state is still a little more Republican than Democrat. In that respect, Warnock is swimming against the tide,” says Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia.
The real question will be whether moderate Republicans and independent voters are willing to overlook the many problems that have been raised with Walker’s candidacy. Moderate, college-educated white women, in particular, are a contingent that the allegations of domestic violence could turn away, experts tell Vox. Given how much support Kemp has appeared to pick up, including with moderates, Walker faces the challenge of ensuring that these voters don’t split their ticket and vote for Warnock or choose the libertarian candidate in the race.
“I think in this race, it’s going to be down for Herschel to the suburban white, college-educated voters, especially women. If those voters, who are now voting for Kemp in big numbers, break for Herschel, he’ll win,” said Reed.
As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has alluded to repeatedly, candidate quality is a big problem that could sink Republicans in multiple states, not just Georgia. In Arizona and Pennsylvania, which are also swing states, the GOP is having similar problems with Masters and Oz. Walker is just one of several candidates whose stumbles could determine whether Republicans are able to get Senate control.