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How accusations from Herschel Walker's past affect his chances with Georgia voters

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It has been a rough week for Herschel Walker. The Georgia Republican Senate candidate, Walker has run a campaign emphasizing family values. He says he is against abortion and has pledged to support a national abortion ban. Now he is facing accusations that he paid for an abortion for a former girlfriend. This is something Walker denies. He is also facing renewed allegations of domestic violence from his son, Christian Walker. So how might these revelations affect a tight race in a key state? We'll put that question to Emma Hurt, who has been covering the Walker campaign for Axios. Hey, Emma.

EMMA HURT: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Start with the tweets this week from Walker's son, Christian, who's been a regular on social media. He has not been shy about sharing his own conservative views, but he has steered clear of criticizing his father's campaign in the past. That changed this week. What'd he say?

HURT: Oh, yeah, in a big way. And actually, Walker, you know, has sporadically spoken for his father's campaign. He introduced him at a fundraiser back in December. But things really took a dramatic turn this week. And it's kind of hard to know where to begin. But basically, he accused his dad of being a liar, saying everything has been a lie. All of it's been a lie and you've known it. You have no idea what me and my mom have survived. We could have ended this on day one. I haven't told any stories. I'm just saying, don't lie. And so while these allegations, as you outlined, were a blow to the campaign, it's these tweets and these - this coming from his son that...

KELLY: From his son.

HURT: ...Has really taken things to the next level.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, voters in Georgia have been hearing opposition ads for a while now in which Walker's ex-wife accuses him of domestic violence. Has Walker responded to any of this?

HURT: Right. And that's Christian Walker's son, actually.

KELLY: Mom, yeah.

HURT: And those ads, as you say, have - sorry, Christian Walker's mother.

KELLY: Yeah.

HURT: Excuse me. And those ads, as you say, have been running a lot. But this is something - this specific allegation - this specific report by his ex-wife is something that's been out there for a long time. That interview featuring her is one they did jointly. He wrote about it in a book, and he has attributed these episodes to a past mental illness. And so there has been some question about whether that was - that's been neutralizing to this attack, that people understand that he struggled with a mental illness. He has told me that he has had treatment and that's long in the past.

But there have been other allegations by other women of domestic violence that he has denied. And now this is just adding to the pile of this drip, drip, drip of stories about Walker's past that, you know, Republicans were worried about for a while. But here we're seeing it come out.

KELLY: Dripping becoming a flow. Let me turn you to the other major controversy this week, which is the allegation that Walker paid for another woman, a former girlfriend, to obtain an abortion. Abortion is a key issue in this election in Georgia. It's a key issue in elections all over the country. Walker, as we said, publicly opposes the procedure. How might this play out for his campaign?

HURT: Again, it's early for us - it's a little early for us to tell. I mean, we do know that this has dropped a bomb, really, in Georgia political circles, just because, as you said, the saliency of this issue right now and Walker's really staunch position as anti-abortion without exceptions. But the question becomes if, you know, these attacks, which are estimated $50 million worth of negative ads have already been spent on Walker, does this just to many voters feel like another attack by, you know, the, quote, "liberal media?" Does it really change any minds? And that is the question.

In, you know, conversations with anti-abortion voters and what we've seen from the big national groups, they're sticking by him. But, you know, it's those undecided voters. It's - in such a tight state, as you know, anyone's mind changing can make a big difference here.

KELLY: That's interesting. I was going to ask you - because Republican lawmakers have mostly continued to stand behind Walker, and I was going to ask about Republican voters in Georgia. It sounds like the answer is watch this space.

HURT: Yeah, I think so. I mean, but that being said, again, we live in sort of a political world here with lots of strategists and politicians and journalists. The question is, how does this news resonate down to voters? And a lot of the ways that that does is through attack ads. So we'll see what those look like.

KELLY: Emma Hurt in Georgia - she's a reporter at Axios - thanks.

HURT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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