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GOP surrogates rally for Georgia’s Herschel Walker in show of unyielding national party support

<i>Megan Varner/Getty Images</i><br/>Georgia GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker speaks at a campaign event on September 9 in Gwinnett County
Megan Varner
Megan Varner/Getty Images
Georgia GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker speaks at a campaign event on September 9 in Gwinnett County

By Gregory Krieg, CNN

The Republican cavalry rode into Georgia on Tuesday for Senate nominee Herschel Walker, whose campaign was rocked last week by allegations the former football star — who supports a national abortion ban without exceptions — twice asked an ex-girlfriend to have the procedure and paid for it on the occasion she did.

Walker was joined by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the chair of the party’s Senate campaign arm, and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton at a stop in Carrollton, about an hour west of Atlanta, on a statewide bus tour as a show of strength from national Republicans for the Trump-backed nominee in one of their most important pick-up opportunities.

Their visit came at a crucial moment in a race critical to both parties’ hopes of winning the 50-50 Senate. Most polling shows Walker and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who’s running for a full six-year term, in a tight contest less than a month before Election Day.

Following the recent stories about Walker, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, helmed by Scott, plans to direct some of the $2.5 million in ad spending it is pulling out of New Hampshire to Georgia, while party leaders — including former President Donald Trump and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel — are closing ranks in support of Walker.

Walker has denied reports from The Daily Beast and New York Times that, taken together, found that the Republican reimbursed a woman with whom he was in a relationship for a 2009 abortion and then, two years later, again sought for her to have the procedure after she became pregnant. She refused the second time and had a son, who she said is now 10 years old.

CNN has not independently confirmed the woman’s allegation about the abortion or that Walker urged her to terminate a second pregnancy. CNN has reached out to the Walker campaign for comment.

Though Walker did not directly address the accusations on the trail on Tuesday, he made a number of vague references to his political opponents.

“They’ll do whatever it takes, say whatever they have to say, because they want this seat right here. But I don’t think they know that they woke up a bear. Hey, I’m not just a dog now. I’m a bear. So they gotta bring more than that.”

Walker, like Scott and Cotton, mostly focused on a mix of economic issues, including inflation, and assorted social grievances, like the teaching of “pronouns in our military.”

Walker also touted their Friday debate, long in the making.

“I told him to quit running from me, quit running,” Walker said, “because I will catch you.”

The decision by Scott and Cotton to travel to Georgia for the rally underscores the GOP’s belief that the accusations against Walker have not done irreparable harm to his chances.

Scott and Cotton were straightforward in their remarks, which could, except for a few identifying details, have been given on any Republican Senate campaign trail in America.

Scott began his short speech by railing against Warnock and President Joe Biden — blaming them for assorted economic troubles and reeling off a laundry list of social grievances.

“Herschel Walker will be a leader in the Senate,” Cotton said, “just like he’s been a leader in sports and in business for the state of Georgia.”

Repeated denials

In an interview Tuesday with ABC News, Walker again denied ever having paid for an abortion and said the woman who made those accusations was fabricating the story.

After saying he now knows the identity of the woman making the accusations, Walker denied ever having a conversation with her about an abortion or paying for the procedure.

Walker has repeatedly called the woman’s claims a “flat-out lie,” using the phrase at a news conference last week and in a fundraising email on Monday, in which he depicted himself as the victim of a smear campaign and compared himself to Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

“Let me be clear: I have never paid for anyone to have an abortion. It’s a flat-out lie,” Walker wrote in the email, which accused “the Left” of engineering the reports about him, then added, “Their intimidation tactics didn’t work on Justices Thomas or Kavanaugh, and they’re not going to work on me.”

And in an interview with Breitbart published Tuesday morning, Walker accused his opponents of “trying to muddy up the water” in the final stretch of the campaign.

“The left is sort of scared because the people are going to vote for me because they know I care,” Walker said. “So they’re trying to do everything they can to turn the people against me, but I think the people know who I am.”

In comments to NBC News on Friday, Walker appeared to confirm that he knows the identity of the woman who claimed he paid for an abortion. However, he continued to deny any knowledge of the procedure.

“She has been angry at me for years and it is very difficult,” he told NBC, in what the outlet said was a brief interview.

National Republicans stick by Walker

Scott and Cotton’s visit also bolstered the GOP strategy of seeking to make Walker look like a victim unfairly maligned.

“The Democrats want to destroy this country, and they will try to destroy anyone who gets in their way. Today it’s Herschel Walker, but tomorrow it’s the American people,” Scott said in a statement sent to CNN on Saturday. “I’m proud to stand with Herschel Walker and make sure Georgians know that he will always fight to protect them from the forces trying to destroy Georgia values and Georgia’s economy, led by Raphael Warnock.”

McDaniel, the RNC chief, affirmed the party establishment’s backing in a Sunday fundraising pitch to supporters. After describing the reports as “concocted” and “nothing short of character assassination.”

“Herschel Walker will deliver a safer and more prosperous Georgia, and the RNC stands by our support of his campaign,” McDaniel wrote.

Walker also has the continued support of Trump, who accused the media of “slandering” the candidate in a social media post. A new super PAC launched by top Trump allies, MAGA Inc., has also committed nearly $1 million in new spending to the Georgia race, as part of a five-state, $5 million outlay on key Senate races.

Trump’s example has been central to Republicans’ response to the accusations.

Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise made specific reference to the former President while speaking to staffers last Tuesday, acknowledging that the first Daily Beast report was a setback, a source familiar with the remarks told CNN last week. But he also pointed to Trump’s victory in 2016 — alluding to the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which he spoke crudely about groping women — as evidence that Walker remained a viable candidate, also noting that the campaign had seen a surge in fundraising in the hours since Walker denied the initial allegations. (Paradise later denied referencing the “Access Hollywood” video.)

There has, however, been some hint of trouble in the Walker ranks. The campaign fired its political director, Taylor Crowe, last week. Two people familiar with the matter said the dismissal came amid suspicions Crowe was leaking information to the media. It is unclear if there were any other factors at play. Crowe did not respond to requests for comment.

While Republicans rally around Walker and hurl unsubstantiated accusations against Democrats and Warnock, with claims they are fabricating the woman’s allegations, the incumbent has been mostly quiet on the matter, refusing to directly attack or condemn his opponent.

“It’s up to Georgia voters. It’s not up to him, it’s not up to me,” Warnock told reporters after a Saturday rally in Columbus. “We do know that my opponent has trouble with the truth. And we’ll see how all this plays out, but I am focused squarely on the health care needs of my constituents, including reproductive health care.”

Pressed on whether he believes Walker’s denials, Warnock again demurred, saying that his view “is irrelevant because the people of Georgia will decide.”

In a statement to CNN on Tuesday morning ahead of the GOP event in Carrollton, Warnock’s campaign ignored the abortion controversy, instead focusing on Scott’s policy proposals.

“While Reverend Warnock fought to lower prescription drug costs for Georgia seniors and protect Social Security, Herschel Walker is campaigning with Rick Scott who’s fighting to cut Social Security for the more than 1.9 million Georgians who rely on it,” Warnock press secretary Sarafina Chitika said. “Georgia seniors deserve a senator who will stand up for them, not someone who sees a friend in a politician who wants to slash their benefits.”

National Democrats are taking a more aggressive tack.

On Tuesday morning, Georgia Honor, a group affiliated with the Democratic Senate Majority PAC, released a new ad highlighting past allegations of abuse against Walker.

The spot focuses on a variety of reported incidents, but centers on a specific charge by his son, Christian Walker, a conservative social media influencer, who recently tweeted that Walker “threatened to kill us” and that he and his mother had to “move over 6 times in 6 months running from your violence.”

Walker won the GOP nomination in May despite some Republicans’ concerns over well-documented prior accusations that he threatened women. Walker has denied at least one of those allegations and has spoken publicly and written about his struggles with mental illness.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Michael Warren and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.

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