Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign has been dominated by controversy

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U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker has faced a string of controversies this week — including that he has two sons and a daughter with different women whom he had not spoken about publicly — that threaten to puncture his image as a larger-than-life football star among the state’s voters.

Walker, a Republican from Georgia endorsed by former president Donald Trump, is running to unseat incumbent Democrat Rev. Raphael G. Warnock in one of the country’s most consequential races that could determine the balance of power in the Senate. Georgia, which President Biden won by less than half a percentage point, still leans Republican and could be an easy pickup for the party in a difficult year for Democrats.

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But Walker, an unpolished politician with an unvetted background, could struggle in vote-rich areas like the Atlanta suburbs if enough swing voters are turned off by the inconsistencies in his professional and personal past, some experts say. Others say his massive celebrity in the state — he was an all-American running back and a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia — gives him greater latitude to make mistakes.

Walker won the Republican nomination last month with more than 68 percent of the vote.

“The people who voted for him because he was famous are not going to be swayed or deterred by this. I think people will rationalize their tribalism,” said Andra Gillespie, a professor at Emory University. “It does raise a question of whether more moderate, suburban voters are going to withstand these types of revelations.”

This week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution debunked previous claims by Walker that he had worked in law enforcement and had been an FBI agent. Two days later, the Daily Beast reported that Walker had a 10-year-old son out of wedlock whom he hadn’t discussed publicly. Then, on Thursday, the left-leaning news site reported Walker had another 13-year-old son with a different woman as well as an adult daughter he fathered as a college student. Walker has spoken on the campaign trail about his close relationship with another son, 22-year-old Christian.

Walker, who in the past has chided absentee Black fathers, confirmed the Daily Beast’s reporting and said he never hid his other children.

“I have four children. Three sons and a daughter. They’re not ‘undisclosed’ — they’re my kids,” Walker said in a statement sent to The Washington Post. “Saying I hide my children because I don’t discuss them with reporters to win a campaign? That’s outrageous. I can take the heat, that’s politics — but leave my kids alone.”

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Walker also noted that when Trump appointed him in 2018 to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, he listed all four children on a background form.

Walker has been harshly critical of absentee Black fathers, once calling it a “major, major problem.”

“The father leaves in the Black family. He leaves the boys alone so they’ll be raised by their mom,” he said in a 2021 interview. “If you have a child with a woman, even if you have to leave that woman — even if you have to leave that woman — you don’t leave that child.”

Several years earlier, a woman petitioned Walker to prove his paternity and pay child support. The two had a relationship between 2008 and 2011, according to a 2013 petition from New York attorney Andres Alonso. The petition stated that the two separated about eight months before the child was born on May 31, 2012, in New York County. More than a year later, Walker was ordered to pay child support for his then-2-year-old son.

The news of Walker’s other three children came days after his oldest son, Christian, posted a TikTok video complaining about absentee fathers and men who have children with multiple women. “Get home and raise your kids and take care of the women you’re knocking up! Can you control your thing for three seconds?” Christian Walker said in the video. He frequently posts videos on social media, offering colorful commentary on a range of subjects.

Unlike Walker’s other children, Christian has been a presence in his father’s public life. In December 2021, he posted a video on Twitter from Mar a Lago, writing, “Had the honor of introducing my dad, @HerschelWalker, last night at Mar a Lago. I got to preach about how authoritarian and HORRIFIC Democrats are, then got to hug a future senator. Perfect night.”

Since Walker became a candidate, a long list of gaffes and misstatements have surfaced, including false claims about his education and alleged background working for law enforcement. He questioned evolution, asking, “Why are there still apes? Think about it.” He once promoted a “dry mist” that if a person walked through would “kill any covid on your body.”

Political strategists argue that for hard-line Republicans, questions about Walkers’ out-of-wedlock children and evidence of falsifying his record won’t have an impact. Not unlike the way many Republicans in 2016 dismissed Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape bragging about sexually assaulting women as just “locker room talk,” party leaders and voters will excuse a famous athlete for having children with multiple women.

Walker is scheduled to speak at Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference of evangelical Christians on Saturday.

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“He’s not going to lose support of die-hard Republicans, and he must speak every day to independents — who swung to Warnock last time — with a simple, repetitive message: ‘I’ll vote right and I’m a choice for change on inflation, crime and gas prices,’ ” said Brian Robinson, a Georgia GOP operative.

Warnock’s campaign didn’t respond to request for comment about Walker’s children and other recent revelations about his past. The senator also faces a child-custody dispute with his ex-wife, who is suing him to have the child support payments “recalculated” based on his increased income since coming to the Senate.

Heath Garrett, another Republican strategist in the state, said Walker should be transparent and use his history and shortcomings as a way to relate to everyday voters.

“In Herschel Walker’s stories, there’s risk and opportunity and I think he’s been underestimated. I think he’s been marginalized at numerous points and times in his life, and he’s always overcome the challenges and turned those struggles into opportunities,” he said. “Voters are forgiving as long as they know and feel the sincerity.”

Matt Prestbury is the founder of the Black Fathers Foundation in Atlanta, which aims to end the stigma of the absent Black dad and help lift up those fathers who want to be there for their children but are struggling. His work is apolitical, and he declined to comment on Walker specifically, but said generally it’s frustrating when Black men denigrate Black fathers and might not be living up to those ideals themselves.

“It’s hurtful when anyone chastises us and comes at us as Black men and says, ‘This is what you’re not doing,’ and then it makes it so much worse if they are being a hypocrite,” Prestbury said. “I want every Black man in the world to be actively involved in the lives of their children, and it saddens me when I see anyone who is not doing that.”

Timothy Bella and Annie Linskey contributed to this report.

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