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Republicans continue to support Herschel Walker even after abortion report

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's less than five weeks until the midterms, and Democrats and Republicans are in an electoral battle for control of the Senate. Which party will prevail comes down to a few key races, including one in Georgia. There, Republican Herschel Walker, a former NFL star, is in a tight race with Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock. Walker is running on an anti-abortion platform, and he's said repeatedly that no abortion is ever acceptable, no matter the circumstance. So an accusation first reported in The Daily Beast that Walker paid for an abortion for his now ex-girlfriend - she provided a receipt, a check from Walker and a get-well card as proof - has many calling Walker a hypocrite.

He's been plagued by other troubling allegations, including domestic violence by his ex-wife and son. Despite the allegations, the Republican Party is closing ranks around Walker. Joining us now to discuss why is prominent conservative evangelical Christian leader Ralph Reed. He's founder and chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and former chair of the Georgia Republican Party. Good morning.

RALPH REED: Good morning, Leila. Good to be with you.

FADEL: Thank you for being here. So let's start with that question - why is the Republican Party still standing by this very flawed candidate whose scandals just seem to keep mounting?

REED: Well, I think in this particular case, we're dealing with a 13-year-old anonymous allegation that no other media organization has been able to independently verify. We don't know who the accuser is. Herschel denies it. And to be perfectly honest with you, in the aftermath of the Steele dossier and the Access Hollywood tape and the October surprise in October of 2018 of Brett Kavanaugh being accused of sexual assault and serial rape, most of those charges were disproven. The main charge was never proven. I think voters are largely being inured to these kind of October surprises. Herschel denies this allegation. And I think voters are going to vote on the issues.

FADEL: So if I could just interrupt for one second - you're right. Herschel Walker does deny this. His son accuses him of lying about this. This is the woman that is now being reported to be a mother of one of his children. But it's not the only accusation against him. His son, Christian Walker, a conservative activist, has now levied his own accusations. He wrote on Twitter that Walker's not a family man, that, quote, "he threatened to kill us and had us move over six times in six months running from your violence." Walker's ex-wife accuses him of holding a gun to her head and threatening to blow her brains out. Is this a man who lines up with conservative Christian values, with Republican values?

REED: Well, I was at a fundraiser in December of last year where his son spoke effusively about him and strongly supported him. So I don't know what that situation is. But look; I think what this really boils down to is we have an election in five weeks taking place when inflation is at a 40-year high. Gas prices are at the highest level in U.S. economic history. And people are voting on the failed policies of Joe Biden, whose job approval in Georgia is 37%. And among swing voters, Biden's job approval is 20%. And Raphael Warnock has voted with Joe Biden 96% of the time. He's tied to him. And so he's trying to change the subject to something that happened with Herschel Walker 13, 15, 20, 25 years ago. I'm just saying it's not going to work.

FADEL: This is a very important race for the Republicans and for the Democrats. And you were quoted in The New York Times...

REED: Sure.

FADEL: ...Saying, we've seen this movie before and that conservative voters will deliver a victory for Walker. Is this a reference to the bargain white evangelical Christians made to vote for Trump in 2016, when you talk about seeing this movie before?

REED: No, I think this one is a little different. I think, you know, Herschel has publicly and repeatedly acknowledged his past struggles with mental health. In fact, he wrote a book about it. And the clip that you mentioned about his former wife talking about how violent he was at that time, he's sitting next to her in that interview to talk about the help that he got, to talk about the fact that he was restored to health. And today they're best of friends. So it's really a story of hope and redemption. And I think what voters are particularly going to reject here is this is a man who has acknowledged past struggles with mental health. He's acknowledged past imperfections. He got the help he needed. He turned his life around. And he's ready to serve.

And what's really, I think, going to turn a lot of voters of faith off is, prior to being a U.S. senator, Raphael Warnock was a preacher. And the message of the gospel is that we can all find redemption through faith in Christ. Herschel's story is one of redemption and hope. And to drag those old stories into a campaign environment to try and tear somebody down, I think, is just a failed strategy. And I think it strikes a lot of voters of faith as contrary to their own redemption that they experienced.

FADEL: Ralph Reed is founder and chair of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Thank you.

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