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Gov. Brian Kemp Tiptoes Past Uproar Over Herschel Walker Abortion Report

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ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia has been running a gradual, drama-free campaign for re-election since he dispatched together with his Trump-backed primary challenger in May. While screaming headlines and stumbles have dogged Herschel Walker’s Senate bid, Mr. Kemp has kept his head down and his mouth shut about his fellow Republican.

On Wednesday, with only five weeks left in his race against Stacey Abrams, Mr. Kemp didn’t switch gears. He dodged a matter about whether he would campaign with Mr. Walker, after his spokesman offered only general support of Republicans “up and down the ticket.”

“I’m focused on my race,” Mr. Kemp said during a temporary interview after a town hall event in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. “I can’t control what other persons are doing. I actually can’t control the past. But I can control my very own destiny and that’s what we’re doing.”

The governor has dodged several questions in recent days concerning the latest round of turmoil surrounding Mr. Walker: A Monday evening report from The Each day Beast said the previous University of Georgia football player and outspoken abortion opponent paid for his then-girlfriend to have the procedure in 2009.

The Latest York Times has not confirmed the report. Mr. Walker has denied the story and threatened to file a defamation suit against the outlet. The litigation, nevertheless, has not yet materialized.

With the primaries over, each parties are shifting their focus to the final election on Nov. 8.

Asked about Mr. Kemp’s comments, Mr. Walker’s spokesman, Will Kiley, dismissed them as not “an actual story.” In an interview with Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Walker said he was unfazed by the controversy and described himself as having “been redeemed.”

“It’s like they’re attempting to bring up my past to harm me,” Mr. Walker said of Democrats and the media. “But they don’t know that bringing up my past only energizes me.”

Mr. Walker also talks about his past in a 30-second direct-to-camera video spot called “Grace” that his campaign released on Wednesday, but only in broad terms. It outlines his struggles with mental illness and makes heavy appeals to faith, but does indirectly mention the Each day Beast report. He as a substitute accuses his opponent, Senator Raphael Warnock, who can also be the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, of not believing in redemption. Mr. Warnock’s campaign declined to comment.

Mr. Walker’s move to run negative messaging related to Mr. Warnock’s pastoral profession is one which Republicans have tried to avoid, following major blowback in the course of the 2021 U.S. Senate runoffs.

Most national Republican figures, along with the party’s most ardent supporters in Georgia, rallied behind Mr. Walker immediately after the article published, hopeful that conservative voters within the state would dismiss the report as false or ignore it. But Mr. Kemp, an abortion opponent who signed into law Georgia’s six-week ban on the procedure, has offered no specific support nor condemnation. His spokesman put out a broad statement in response on Tuesday, saying the governor’s foremost objective at this stage was working to secure a second term.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kemp didn’t answer a matter about whether he would campaign alongside Mr. Walker. The 2 haven’t yet held joint events.

When asked by The Times if Mr. Walker’s troubles could damage the Republican ticket, Mr. Kemp said, “That’s a matter the voters may have to make your mind up.”

“I’m not going to get into people’s personal lives,” he said. “No one’s asking me about that after I’m out on the road. They’re asking me, ‘Hey, how’s it going? What are you doing?’ Or they’re saying, ‘Thanks for keeping our economy open, we’re doing great.’”

Mr. Kemp has little political incentive to wade right into a messy episode. Most polls of the Georgia governor’s race show him running ahead of his Democratic opponent, Ms. Abrams. He has also polled higher than Mr. Walker, who has gave the impression to be in a tighter race against Mr. Warnock.

Still, the governor has implored his supporters to not trust the numbers as he continues to carry fund-raisers and support the state Republican Party’s grass-roots outreach efforts. On Wednesday, Mr. Kemp was focused on pitching a second term to Black men. Republicans in Georgia have made a powerful effort to make more appeals to Black voters this 12 months, hoping even tiny inroads with the solid Democratic constituency might make a difference in an in depth race.

Greater than three dozen Black male business owners, entrepreneurs and party leaders gathered to take heed to Mr. Kemp on Wednesday and asked questions largely related to business development and college alternative. By the top of the event, its moderator, the Atlanta conservative radio host Shelley Wynter, asked if anyone present unsure of Mr. Kemp was “now sure” that they might support him. Several within the group raised their hands.

Within the interview afterward, Mr. Kemp said he believed the Republican Party in Georgia could have a gap with the state’s rapidly changing demographics.

“I‘m happy with my record. I believe we will earn a number of minority votes with that,” he said. “And quite truthfully, I believe it is going to set the trail for our party in the long run.”

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