NASHVILLE — Herschel Walker received resounding applause from evangelical Christian activists on Saturday, following revelations he had fathered three children he had not previously discussed publicly.
The half-full room of conference-goers at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual gathering in Nashville went wild for Walker — perhaps the most high-profile Republican Senate candidate this cycle running in one of the most contested races.
In an onstage interview with Walker, Faith & Freedom founder Ralph Reed addressed the recent barrage of news stories by saying “Democrats and the media” were “firing artillery” at the candidate. Walker, in turn, said he loves and has never “denied” any of his children, before accusing unnamed forces of trying to mislead his family members.
“They didn’t do anything but make me want to fight harder, because I’m tired of people misleading the American people,” Walker said. “I’m tired of people misleading my family.”
From there, Walker quickly pivoted to the need for America to become energy independent and decried those trying to “confuse” people “with racism over here” and the “Build Back Better Plan over here.”
The reception Walker received at the conference is an early indication that self-identified religious conservatives will give him a pass for a biographical detail at odds with their stated mission.
The former Heisman winner stands accused of hiding from the public three children that he had with multiple women outside of marriage. And both Walker and his oldest son, Christian Walker, have been critical of absent fathers. The Daily Beast reported that at least one of the mothers of Walker’s unacknowledged children had to take legal action to receive child support payments.
Paulina Macfoy, an Atlanta resident attending the conference, said “Jesus Christ will answer” the question of how Walker’s parenting decisions square with his faith and his repeated criticism of absent fathers. Macfoy maintained that she believes Walker is a “good candidate” because he “stands for family,” and said it was a “waste of time” to report on his personal life.
“He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” she said.
Walker is challenging Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) this November in the swing state, in a race that could shift control of the Senate. He has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and has embraced many socially conservative stances, including the importance of being a good father — a message he has targeted specifically to Black audiences.
In an interview, Reed said he did not believe the recent news coverage would hurt Walker’s chances of defeating Warnock. He praised Walker’s public commitment to his faith.
“I’ve worked on every campaign in Georgia, virtually, since 1976,” Reed said. “I’ve never seen a candidate that open about his faith, ever, on the Republican side.”
When it comes to his family, Walker said he didn’t try to hide his children and disclosed their names and ages on a government form in 2018. The Walker campaign shared a photo of the document with POLITICO after the Daily Beast’s reporting. The header on that form stated that “none of the information below will be shared outside of the PCSFN office.”
Walker is a hero among Georgia football fans. He’s been a public figure in the state since retiring from professional football. His popularity was confirmed when he dominated the state’s GOP primary election in May. His celebrity persona, along with a national political climate expected to benefit Republicans this year, may mean Walker can absorb the negative attention.
But inconsistencies and controversies not only around his children, but also surrounding his business record, could turn off swing voters in a state that has seen a growing number of Democrats in recent election cycles. Walker has also been called out for lying about graduating from the University of Georgia. He left after his junior year. He also said that he was a member of law enforcement in Cobb County and trained with the FBI. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found no evidence this was true. The Cobb County Police Department, a county neighboring Atlanta, also said it “had no record of involvement with Walker,” the newspaper reported.
Walker has also asserted that Trump never said that the election was stolen, in an interview with FOX 5 Atlanta. “I don’t know whether President Trump ever said that, because he never said that to me,” Walker said. Trump has repeatedly said the 2020 election was stolen, including a week ago in his endorsement of Alabama Senate candidate Katie Britt.
Walker avoided debates during the primary and has so far limited interviews with media outlets that aren’t conservative. His appearance at the Faith & Freedom conference consisted of a conversation with Reed, rather than a speech like most of the other candidates and office-holders who took the stage.