CARROLLTON, Ga. (AP) — Republican Senate heavyweights sought Tuesday to boost Georgia Senate nominee Herschel Walker, brushing aside concerns about allegations that the football icon once paid for an abortion and stressing that a Republican Senate majority should be voters’ foremost priority.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs Republicans’ Senate campaign arm, and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, did not directly address questions about whether they talked privately with Walker about reports that he paid for and encouraged an abortion in 2009 for a woman with whom he later fathered a child.

Instead, they urged voters to concentrate on defeating Sen. Raphael Warnock and rebuking President Joe Biden’s leadership.

“I think it ought to be about the issues,” Scott said. “Everybody should vote for what’s good for them.”

On stage, Scott and Cotton went further, painting a dystopian portrait of America under Biden and a Democratic Senate majority: “men destroying women’s sports” and “the FBI intimidating parents when they speak up at school board meetings” and “fentanyl pouring into our country … and killing our children.”

The campaign swing by national Republicans illuminates a simple reality for GOP leaders who were skeptical about Walker’s candidacy before he became the nominee: They have no choice but to stick with a candidate who remains competitive in a state that is almost surely necessary for Republicans to break the Senate’s current 50-50 partisan split.

Georgia’s outcome has gained importance with Republican nominees in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Arizona potentially underperforming in races the GOP had targeted heading into the 2022 election cycle.

Walker, for his part, stuck to his usual campaign speech Tuesday and did not join Scott and Cotton when they took questions from reporters after the event. He continues to deny that he has ever paid for an abortion. When Scott was pressed on whether he’d asked Walker directly about the allegations, the senator avoided the question by noting the candidate’s denials.

The reporting by The Daily Beast complicates Walker’s candidacy in multiple ways. Supporting an absolute national ban on abortions as a candidate, Walker faces questions from at least some skeptical religious conservatives now weighing their preference for Republican rule against the possibility that Walker’s personal life has not matched his public persona.

Yet Walker’s evolving explanations — initially insisting he had no idea who could have claimed he paid for her abortion, only for the woman to identify herself as the mother of one of Walker’s four children —- have undermined his absolute denials and given Democrats a fresh opportunity to press their assertions that he’s “not ready” for the Senate.

That’s an argument Warnock has aimed at the middle of the Georgia electorate, including GOP-leaning voters who helped Biden win Georgia narrowly in November 2020 and then elevated Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff to Senate runoff victories two months later.

The Daily Beast reporting includes records, supplied by the woman, that include a $575 receipt for an abortion, a get-well card signed by Walker and a bank deposit showing a $700 personal check from Walker, dated five days after the abortion receipt. The woman, who has not been identified by name, also told The Daily Beast that Walker encouraged the abortion and then encouraged a second abortion that she refused, giving birth to a child she says Walker has met only a few times.

Warnock, who supports abortion rights, has sidestepped the specifics of the allegations against Walker. But the incumbent has wielded the same argument about Walker’s fitness that he used amid earlier disclosures of Walker’s past and when the first-time candidate flubbed some policy discussions. Previous reports have detailed how Walker exaggerated his academic achievements, business success and his philanthropic activities, as well as accusations that he threatened the life of his ex-wife.

Walker, who had spoken publicly about adult son Christian Walker, was forced to publicly acknowledge having three additional children — including a child of the woman who said he paid for her abortion — after another Daily Beast story earlier in the campaign. He had previously only spoken publicly about Christian, a son from his first marriage.

Certainly, the enthusiastic crowd who gathered Tuesday on the outskirts of metro Atlanta has decided to stick with Walker. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been questions.

“It was a little rocky at the start,” said Lydia Hallmark, who wore a “Women for Herschel” button. “But I think people understand that people change, and they grow.” Asked whether that means she doubts Walker’s accounts, Hallmark said, “We weren’t there.”

Fellow Republicans she’s talked to, Hallmark continued, “have used the word redemption,” a word Walker has featured in a recent television ad about his struggles with mental health. “I don’t know what happened,” she continued. “But I know that he has asked for forgiveness for other things. And if you’re redeemed for one thing, I guess you are for another.”

Martha Zoller, a popular conservative radio host who supports Walker, said it is nonetheless “getting harder and harder for some (Republicans) to justify” voting for Walker.

Ultimately, she said, the choice for some voters will come down to the same calculation that Scott, Cotton and their Washington colleagues already have made.

“If they see Walker as a guy that’s going to vote against Joe Biden, and he’s going to rebalance the power in the Senate, then they will continue to vote for Herschel Walker,” she said. “If they believe that he has gone too far in his personal life, and they can’t support that, they will either not vote or vote against him.”

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