Georgia Senate race heats up
Herschel Walker, the Republican running to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, this week denied reports that he had paid for a woman's abortion in 2009.
Walker has vehemently denied the story, called it a "flat-out lie" and threatened to sue the outlet. CBS News has not confirmed the allegations and reporting by The Daily Beast.
Walker will be making his first public appearance since the allegations surfaced at a campaign event about three hours outside Atlanta on Thursday.
The Senate race had already been one of the most closely watched of the 2022 cycle. The race features a Black Democratic incumbent in a state that hadn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1996 - until it elected two in 2020. And the state had never elected a Black senator before Warnock won his special election in 2020.
Here's what you need to know about the race and the latest allegations:
What races are on the ballot?
One of Georgia's Senate seats is on the ballot on Nov. 8, just under two years removed from the high-stakes pair of Senate runoffs in the state in Jan. 2021 that decided control of the Senate. Herschel Walker is the Republican challenger to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Both parties are once again expecting their respective paths to the Senate majority to go through Georgia, where over $243 million has been spent on advertisements this cycle, according to ad-tracking firm AdImpact. Also on the ballot in Georgia is the governor's race, where incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is locked in a rematch from 2018 with Democrat Stacey Abrams.
Why is the GOP so bullish on Georgia?
It all comes down to control of the Senate. Currently, the Senate is split 50-50 but Democrats have control thanks to the Vice President providing the tie- breaking vote. But with 35 seats up for reelection in Nov., Republicans are hoping they can take control back. That's where Georiga comes in. A win in the Peach State could be what puts the Republicans over the edge and back in the majority.
"Georgia was one they thought they could just win, even with a not particularly great candidate," Conservative radio host Erick Erickson told CBS News. "And now that one looks to be the most in jeopardy."
President Joe Biden won Georgia in 2020 by just 14,000 votes, or just 0.3%, the first Democrat to win a presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1992. There were two Senate races held in the state in 2020 because of Sen. Johnny Isaakson's resignation and Sen. David Perdue's regularly scheduled race. In the race for Perdue's seat, he actually led over Jon Ossoff, 49.7% to 47.9%, after Election Day, but falling by 0.3% short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. Despite a last-minute rally by Trump, Ossoff won in the runoff.
As for the other seat, incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler – who had been appointed to Isakson's seat – was forced into a runoff after a jungle primary after Warnock captured 32.5% of the vote to 29.5% for Loeffler, although there were 21 candidates in the race. Warnock ultimately prevailed in the Jan. runoff.
Who is Herschel Walker?
Walker is best known for his Heisman Trophy-winning performance as a running back for University of Georgia. He helped lead the team to a National Championship win in 1980 and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Following three years at Georgia, Walker went on to play professional football for both the now abolished USFL and the NFL. It was during his time in the USFL that Walker got to know Former President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of Walker's senate race.
Walker announced his run for the Georgia Senate race August 2021, saying he "can't sit on the sidelines anymore." This is first candidacy and he frequently invokes his Washington outsider status on the campaign trail.
Why has Herschel Walker been in the news this week?
Walker is on the defensive following a new report from The Daily Beast that the Senate candidate, who has vocally oppposed abortion rights, allegedly paid for a woman he'd been seeing to have an abortion in 2009. CBS News has not independently confirmed this payment. The unidentified woman supported her claim with a $575 receipt from an abortion clinic -- and a signed $700 personal check from Walker to cover expenses. She told The Daily Beast that she came forward because of Walker's stance on abortion, saying "I just cant with the hypocrisy anymore. We all deserve better"
What has been his response?
Walker has denied the accusation. He tweeted "this is a flat-out lie," and "this is another repugnant hatchet job from a democrat activist disguised as a reporter." He added in the tweet that he plans to sue The Daily Beast for defamation but Walker's lawyer, Robert Ingram, told CBS News, "We are currently considering our options but no final decision has been made on the future handling of this matter."
Walker attended a campaign event in Atlanta on Tuesday but did not allow any press inside. His campaign has looked to turn back to their core campaign issues against Warnock: the rising cost of living and crime in Georgia. National Republicans have discredited the allegations:
National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. Rick Scott equated Walker's reported payment to the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in his confirmation hearings. That same committee added to their ad buy in Georgia on Tuesday, after the allegation against Walker came out.
Who is Christian Walker?
Christian Walker is Herschel Walker's adult son, and is a notable conservative personality on social media and YouTube. The 23-year-old has previously shown support for his father's Senate run, tweeting in Dec. about introducing him at Mar-a-Lago and saying one year ago that "everyone's really excited that my dad Herschel Walker is" running.
After The Daily Beast story came out, Christian Walker put out several tweets and videos calling on his father to "stop the lies" and said "every family member of Herschel Walker asked him not to run for office, because we all knew (some of) his past." Christian Walker seemed to corroborate some of The Daily Beast's reporting, in one video he said, "it's literally his handwriting in the card." After his son's initial string of posts, Herschel Walker tweeted, "I LOVE my son no matter what."
What about the polls before this incident?
The latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, from before the allegations, has the two candidates neck and neck, with Walker trailing incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock by just two points. This puts the race in the "toss up" category.
What are Republicans saying?
Many Republicans are standing by Walker as they realize the importance of maintaining a united front ahead of the midterms in attempts to take back control of the Senate.
Scott released a statement saying Democrats, "know they are on the verge of losing the Senate, and they know that Herschel Walker is winning, so they have cranked up the smear machine."
Trump also released a statement showing support for Walker,a longtime friend, saying, "Herschel Walker is being slandered and maligned by the Fake News Media and obviously, the Democrats." He added, "it's very important for our Country and the Great State of Georgia that Herschel Walker wins this Election.
What is his opponent saying?
Warnock is choosing to deflect on the matter for now. During an event Monday night when asked about the latest report from The Daily Beast, he told reporters, "I'll let the pundits decide how they think it will impact the race."
Warnock, a pastor, himself hasn't avoided accusations during this race, with ads frequently running accusing him of domestic abuse. The allegations stem from a 2020 incident where Warnock allegedly ran over his wife's foot with a car, and no charges were filed.
The pair are set to debate in Savannah on Friday, Oct. 14. Abortion will likely come up in the debate and this could be a chance for Warnock to bring up the accusation against Walker in a race that has become increasingly personal.
What are Georgia voters saying?
Just like Republicans in office, many GOP Georgia voters plan to stick with Walker in this race. Adam Whitney told CBS News that he thinks his fellow Georgia Republicans will stick with Walker despite the latest accusations against him.
"It is very much partisanship and that people tend to side with the party sometimes over the person," Whitney said. "In terms of the overall population, I think people do just vote straight with party."
Voters on both sides also expressed growing frustration with the frequent accusations against both candidates- and the near constant TV ads running in the state about them.
"It's unfortunate that we can't talk about real issues that matter because we're distracted by people without integrity like Herschel Walker," Amy Bruckman, a registered Democrat, told CBS News. "I think it does the Republicans a disservice. I'd like to see greater dialogue about real issues between Democrats and Republicans."
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