ATLANTA — Georgia Republicans knew for months before Herschel Walker launched his Senate campaign that he could be an enormous risk in certainly one of the party’s most pivotal races. Just how much of a risk has change into clear to lots of them in recent weeks.
Mr. Walker has blundered through an array of missteps and has endured negative media coverage, raising questions on his past and fitness for the office.
He made exaggerated and unfaithful claims about his business background and his ties to law enforcement. After repeatedly criticizing absent fathers in Black households, he publicly acknowledged having fathered two sons and a daughter with whom he shouldn’t be often in touch. And he initially failed, in line with reporting by The Every day Beast, to share details about those three children with senior campaign aides.
“Herschel Walker, the wannabe U.S. senator, is avoiding contact — with opponents, with the media, with good sense — like the way in which Georgia Bulldog fans sidestep wedding invites that fall on a gameday,” Adam Van Brimmer, opinion editor of the Savannah Morning News, wrote in a recent column. “Walker isn’t a lot running for U.S. Senate as he’s running from it.”
Yet these developments have mattered little to Republican officials and strategists, several of whom said in interviews that their support for Mr. Walker has not wavered.
They said he continues to have the backing of top Republican leaders within the state at a time when Democrats are bracing for bruising losses within the November midterms. Even those within the G.O.P. who’re quietly wary of Mr. Walker’s tumultuous past and his lack of political experience say they’re looking past all that and focusing as an alternative on flipping a Democratic seat within the Senate.
The Republican Party has stood by quite a few elected officials and candidates suffering from scandals, often selecting to interrupt with them only when their possibilities of winning a race are jeopardized. For Mr. Walker — who comes with hefty investments from top conservative groups, Donald J. Trump’s blessing and a base enamored by his football stardom on the University of Georgia within the Nineteen Eighties — that break has yet to materialize.
“I believe Georgia Democrats have gotten quite a bit more excited than the Republicans have gotten nervous,” said Randy Evans, a former leader of the Republican National Committee in Georgia and an envoy to Luxembourg under Mr. Trump.
Some Republicans, nonetheless, said they imagine Mr. Walker will proceed to be weakened within the months leading as much as the November election. Janelle King, an Atlanta-area Republican political consultant whose husband, Kelvin King, ran against Mr. Walker within the G.O.P. primary, said that Mr. King and other unsuccessful Senate candidates argued that the party had been too blinded by Mr. Walker’s football stardom to see that his past could be a liability.
Now, she said, she wishes they’d worked harder to spotlight those concerns. Along with a slow drip of negative press, Mr. Walker did not attend any of the Republican Senate debates throughout the primary — something Ms. King said she regrets not making an even bigger point of interest of her husband’s campaign.
“We must always have demanded to see more from him,” she said. “Because not less than we could have worked out a few of these items. So now we’re in the overall and every part is just coming out.”
Others within the party who’re concerned about Mr. Walker’s past fear it would hurt his standing with the slice of independent and moderate Republican voters who will ultimately determine the race. Some Republicans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely in regards to the campaign, said that Mr. Walker’s staff must have taken advantage of his lead throughout the primary to organize for a much tougher general election by sharpening his public speaking skills for the debates against the Democratic incumbent, Senator Raphael Warnock. Mr. Warnock has already committed to attending three debates later this fall. Mr. Walker has also agreed to debate but has not named the debates he would attend.
Within the last week Mr. Walker’s campaign has limited his media exposure almost completely, barring reporters from attending not less than two of his events, including one with the Buckhead Atlanta chapter of the Young Republicans and an Independence Day picnic that was billed as “open to everyone” with Representative Andrew Clyde.
“Georgia voters could have a transparent selection this fall between Reverend Warnock’s extensive record of fighting for all Georgians to lower costs for hardworking Georgia families and Herschel Walker’s pattern of lies, exaggerations, and completely bizarre claims, all of which show he shouldn’t be able to represent Georgians within the U.S. Senate,” Meredith Brasher, Mr. Warnock’s communications director, said in an announcement.
Recent polling shows a decent race between Mr. Walker and Mr. Warnock. A poll from the Democratic group Data for Progress shows Mr. Walker with a two-point lead over Mr. Warnock. In late June, a Quinnipiac poll found that Mr. Warnock had a ten-point lead over Mr. Walker — Mr. Walker’s campaign claimed the margin is far closer.
Mallory Blount, a spokeswoman for Mr. Walker, said the recent string of headlines had little effect.
“Attacks on our campaign aren’t latest and I’m sure we’ll see more,” Ms. Blount said in an announcement. “What else can Sen. Warnock discuss? Gas prices? Inflation? Crime? Accomplishments? Nope. The very fact is Warnock cares more about Joe Biden than he does Georgia — he’s gone Washington and left Georgia behind.”
Those that are confident about Mr. Walker’s prospects say that voters are either not paying close attention to the negative stories about him or not caring enough about them to let it change their vote. Last month, at a Juneteenth event hosted by Mr. Walker’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, voters characterised the negative coverage as little greater than political distractions.
“He’s a person. He’s doing right by his family. He’s doing right by the community,” said Ronel Saintvil, a Republican who’s Black and who lives in metro Atlanta. “To me, for someone simply to bad mouth him like this, I don’t imagine it’s right. They’re not specializing in the problems at hand that affect the people in Georgia. And I believe that’s what’s more essential.”
Others say Democrats’ own woes, each nationally and statewide, are buffering concerns about Mr. Walker.
Marci McCarthy, chair of the DeKalb County Republican Party, cited recent stories of Mr. Warnock’s use of campaign funds for private legal matters, saying voters “are really not on the lookout for the rubbish about either candidate.”
Mr. Walker’s campaign, for its part, has began to make numerous changes in preparation for the autumn, including hiring a latest communications director. Top Republican groups have also made big investments within the race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican Senate campaign arm that has up to now spent $8 million in Georgia this 12 months, bought $1.4 million in pro-Walker television airtime last week, in line with the promoting data tracking firm, AdImpact.
And within the state, Mr. Walker advantages from support among the many party’s most faithful. In Cherokee County, a Georgia Republican stronghold that supported Mr. Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020, G.O.P. leaders are planning to host an event in partnership with the campaign in the approaching weeks, in line with the county party chair, James Dvorak.
Vernon Jones, the Democrat-turned-Trump-Republican who lost his congressional race in Georgia’s deep-red tenth district, has also entered the fray, saying on Friday that he’ll launch an independent expenditure committee supporting Mr. Walker’s and Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaigns. He plans to spend not less than $500,000 in radio and digital advertisements aimed toward Black male voters over the subsequent 4 months.
The continuing support shows Mr. Walker’s strength, his proponents say.
“You’re going to have bumps within the road within the road, and it’s probably higher to get those things out of the way in which as early as possible,” said Eric J. Tanenblatt, a Georgia Republican strategist who was chief of staff to a former governor, Sonny Perdue. “I believe by the point voting starts in the autumn, a few of these bumps within the road will get worked out. I hope so, for Herschel’s sake.”