GOP alarms sound on Herschel Walker in Georgia: The Note

The next seven days could be the most consequential stretch of primary season.

May 17, 2022, 6:01 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The next seven days could be the most consequential stretch of the primary season -- particularly for Republicans, who have a series of Senate races coming up where President Donald Trump's endorsements are prompting worries about the types of candidates the party will put forward this year.

On Tuesday, voters in Pennsylvania will sort through a wild Senate GOP race. Trump's choice of Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senate has opened an unlikely lane for Kathy Barnette, a Black veteran with an inspiring personal history but a long history of controversial statements and actions -- including the revelation Monday that she marched with protestors toward the Capitol last Jan. 6.

PHOTO: Republican Senate canididate Herschel Walker speaks to supporters during a campaign stop, in Ellijay, Ga., May 14, 2022.
Republican Senate canididate Herschel Walker speaks to supporters during a campaign stop, in Ellijay, Ga., May 14, 2022.
Mike Stewart/AP

Even before that race plays out, Republican concerns are extending to next Tuesday's primary in Georgia. Trump's backing of Herschel Walker for Senate leaves him in a commanding position in a campaign where he has avoided debates with GOP rivals entirely -- while largely refusing to discuss allegations of domestic violence, physical threats against women and stalking.

"There's a pattern of deflect, defer, run, hide, twist," Gary Black, the Georgia agriculture commissioner and Walker's highest-polling Republican challenger, told ABC News' Bob Woodruff for a story that will air Tuesday on "Nightline." "It's unacceptable for service in the United States Senate. In my opinion, I think most Georgians are going to agree."

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, R-Ga., told "Nightline" that Walker needs to address issues raised about his past before next Tuesday's primary: "If he doesn't, then I think it's going to be a tough day in Georgia when we get to the November election, and we're going to send, unfortunately, another Democrat to represent us as a U.S. senator."

Walker and his campaign insist he has healed and taken responsibility for any past transgressions. In a statement provided to ABC News, his campaign called bringing up old allegations "an obvious political hit job" and said Walker has addressed his past in a book he wrote and in a 2008 interview with Woodruff.

Unlike in races in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, most of the national Republican establishment has chosen not to oppose Trump in the Georgia Senate race. Walker's celebrity and affiliation with Trump left many assuming he would be a strong candidate to unite the party against Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.

Trump has taken a special interest in Georgia, which he lost in November 2020 and where he continues to falsely claim that the election was stolen from him. Many Republicans haven't forgotten that either -- or how Trump's false claims may have dampened turnout enough for the GOP to lose both Senate seats in the January 2021 runoffs.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

In the aftermath of the racially motivated shooting spree at a Buffalo supermarket, many have called out the normalization of the once-fringe idea of white "replacement theory."

The conspiracy theory is rooted in the claim that there is a plot through demographic change and immigration to lessen the influence of white people by outnumbering them. It was the subject of the suspected Buffalo shooter's 180-page document that espoused racist and antisemitic ideology. All 10 victims killed the rampage were Black.

While there is well-documented history in this country of threats and acts of racially motivated violence that coincide with people of color seeking and gaining political power, the intensity of this theory has grown in dark corners of the internet in recent years.

PHOTO: Police officers secure the scene after a shooting at TOPS supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., May 15, 2022.
Police officers secure the scene after a shooting at TOPS supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., May 15, 2022.
Jeffrey T. Barnes/Reuters

Some far-right lawmakers have employed threads of the theory to energize their bases. Some conservative media outlets have also trafficked in similar rhetoric. An Associated Press-NORC poll found that 42% of Republicans believe in the conspiracy.

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik took heat Monday for a Facebook ad on her campaign page that accused Democrats of planning to give amnesty to undocumented immigrants in order to "overthrow our current electorate." In a statement, a Stefanik's adviser called the criticism a "new disgusting low for the Left." Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., appeared at a conference hosted by white nationalist groups earlier this year, a move decried by lawmakers and groups on both sides of the aisle.

"The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse," tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. "⁦@GOP⁩ leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them."

Cheney's rebuke comes as law enforcement officials investigate the Buffalo shooting as a hate crime and Homeland Security officials warn that domestic violent extremists could capitalize on debates about abortion and immigration to incite violence.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

After a tumultuous final stretch of campaigning, Pennsylvanians head to the polls Tuesday amid an evolving Senate primary landscape following news of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's stroke and the ongoing three-way contest between Dr. Mehmet Oz, Kathy Barnette and Dave McCormick.

Barnette's rising profile continues to reveal details of past actions that could present hurdles if she became a general election candidate. ABC News has verified two videos depicting Barnette marching toward the Capitol on Jan. 6, but is not aware of any images suggesting Barnette breached the Capitol. The videos were brought to light on Twitter by independent researcher Chad Loder.

PHOTO: A still from video streamed on Jan. 6 shows Pa. Republican Senate candidate Kathy Barnette participating in the march in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
A still from video streamed on Jan. 6 shows Pa. Republican Senate candidate Kathy Barnette participating in the march in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

ABC News reached out to Barnette's campaign for comment but did not receive a response. The campaign told NBC News, which also verified Loder's research, that "Kathy was in DC to support President Trump and demand election accountability. Any assertion that she participated in or supported the destruction of property is intentionally false. She has no connection whatsoever to the Proud Boys."

In an interview with Breitbart Radio on Monday, Barnette said she would not support Oz or McCormick if they win, adding "I have no intentions of supporting globalists."

Meanwhile, across the aisle, Democrats face the unknown factor of how Fetterman's health scare potentially impacts voter turnout. On Monday, his campaign announced the lieutenant governor would not attend his election night event in Pittsburgh, and instead, will continue his recovery at the hospital. His wife, Gisele Fetterman, is slated to host election night events.

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

52. That's the percentage of Americans who said the most important issue was inflation in the first FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll that asked 2,000 Americans what they thought the biggest issues facing the country were. In partnership with Ipsos, FiveThirtyEight will conduct six polls between now and Election Day, interviewing the same group using Ipsos's KnowledgePanel. Read more from FiveThirtyEight's Geoffrey Skelley and Holly Fuong on what Americans think about inflation, including how it has affected their lives.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Tuesday morning on Start Here begins with updates on the Buffalo supermarket shooting and the wider context of 'replacement theory.' ABC's Pierre Thomas and homeland security expert John Cohen describe new details. Then, ABC's Matt Gutman reports on the motive behind the California church shooting. And, ABC's Rachel Scott explains Pennsylvania's primary developments. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive in Buffalo, New York, at 9:45 a.m. and pay their respects to the lives lost in Saturday's shooting at 10:25 a.m. At 11 a.m., they meet with the families of victims and first responders to offer their condolences before the president delivers remarks at the Delavan Grider Community Center at 1 p.m. They return to the White House for a 4 p.m. reception in the Rose Garden to celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre gaggles aboard Air Force One en route to Buffalo.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris attends the Greek prime minister's address to Congress at 11 a.m. followed by the reception in the Rose Garden at 4 p.m.
  • Polls for primary elections open in Kentucky at 6 a.m. ET, North Carolina at 6:30 a.m. ET, Pennsylvania at 7 a.m. ET and Idaho at 10 a.m. ET.
  • Polls close in Kentucky at 7 p.m. ET, North Carolina at 7:30 p.m. ET, Pennsylvania at 8 p.m. ET, Oregon at 11 p.m. ET and Idaho at 11 p.m. ET.
  • The House Intelligence Committee's Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee holds a 9 a.m. open and closed hearing on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee holds a hearing at 10 a.m. to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for the Air Force and Space Force.
  • The House Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis holds a 12:30 p.m. hybrid hearing on how the pandemic economy disproportionately harmed low-wage women workers.
  • The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Innovation holds a 2 p.m. hearing to examine efforts to strengthen federal network cybersecurity.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.
  • The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.
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