WADLEY, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker remained defiant Thursday after successive reports alleging that he encouraged and paid for the 2009 abortion of a woman and later fathered a child with her.
Digging in on his denials of reporting by The Daily Beast, Walker, a football icon turned celebrity politician and staunch abortion foe, blamed the stories on Democrats and their “desperation” — a defensive tactic that Walker’s friend and ally, former President Donald Trump, used to weather myriad controversies on his way to the White House.
“I know why you’re here. I do,” he told reporters after his first public campaign speech since The Daily Beast’s initial report Monday. “You’re here because the Democrats are desperate to hold on to this seat here, and they’re desperate to make this race about my family.”
He went on to repeat: “This abortion thing is false. It’s a lie.”
Walker promised in the hours after the initial report to sue the news outlet, but has not followed up with an announcement that he has done so.
The allegations, along with statements from Walker’s adult son blasting his father as a liar, have rocked one of the nation’s most important Senate contests. Walker is locked in a tight race against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, with the outcome potentially determining which party controls the Senate for the final two years of President Joe Biden’s term.
Walker’s stop Thursday, his first public appearance of the week after a series of conservative media interviews and closed events, marked his latest attempt to navigate his rocky past and reconcile the allegations with his support for an absolute national ban on abortions. He has previously confronted stories revealing additional children he had not publicly acknowledged and detailing his exaggerations of business achievements.
None of that has shaken public support for Walker among Republicans in Washington, but the abortion allegations have rattled some party faithful in Georgia.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting calls from Republicans who are very concerned and struggling with what they’re going to do in the voting booth,” Martha Zoller, a popular radio host in north Georgia and one-time congressional candidate, said in an interview.
The Daily Beast, which first reported Monday on the abortion, said it had agreed not to reveal details of the woman’s identity to protect her privacy.
The outlet’s initial report included paper evidence the woman provided. Those records include what appears to be a $575 receipt for an abortion procedure, a get-well card signed by Walker and a bank deposit receipt showing a $700 personal check from Walker, dated five days after the abortion receipt.
In that story, The Daily Beast described the woman only as someone who was dating Walker in 2009, at the time of the abortion. Walker responded with flat denials, including interviews during which he claimed to have no idea who could be making the allegation. In its Wednesday story, The Daily Beast revealed that the woman — who remains unnamed — was so well known to Walker that, according to her, they conceived another child years after the abortion. She decided to continue on with the later pregnancy, though she noted that Walker, as he had during the earlier pregnancy, expressed that it wasn’t a convenient time for him, the outlet reported.
Prior to his Senate bid, Walker had publicly acknowledged only his son, Christian Walker, whose mother was Walker’s first wife. Earlier this year, after another story by The Daily Beast, Walker he acknowledged the existence of three additional children he had not previously talked about publicly.
Christian Walker, a high-profile social media commentator, has issued several comments and video statements since the first report, accusing his father of lying about his past and being an absent father. Asked about the son on Thursday, he said simply that “I love my son so much. He’s a great little man. I love him to death. I will always love him no matter what.”
The Daily Beast said the Walker campaign declined to comment on Wednesday’s story, and he had little to say on details Thursday during his five-minute exchange with reporters in south Georgia.
During the Republican Senate primary, Walker openly backed a national ban on abortions with no exceptions for cases involving rape, incest or a woman’s health being at risk — particularly notable at a time when the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court precedent had been overturned and Democrats in Congress had been discussing codifying abortion rights into federal law.
“I’m for life,” Walker has said repeatedly as he campaigns. When asked whether he’d allow for any exceptions, he has said there are “no excuses” for the procedure.
As the Republican nominee, Walker has sometimes sidestepped questions about his earlier support for an absolute ban, a tacit nod to the fact that most voters, including many Republicans, want at least some legal access to abortion.
Warnock was in his hometown of Savannah on Thursday for a ceremony naming a street after him, attending the event with his two young children. The senator declined to address directly the allegations against Walker.
Associated Press reporter Russ Bynum contributed from Savannah, Georgia.