Gov. Brian Kemp Tiptoes Past Uproar Over Herschel Walker Abortion Report

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia has been running a steady, drama-free campaign for re-election since he dispatched with his Trump-backed primary challenger in May. While screaming headlines and stumbles have dogged Herschel Walker’s Senate bid, Mr. Kemp has kept his head down and his mouth shut about his fellow Republican.

On Wednesday, with only five weeks left in his race against Stacey Abrams, Mr. Kemp did not switch gears. He dodged a question about whether he would campaign with Mr. Walker, after his spokesman offered only general support of Republicans “up and down the ticket.”

“I’m focused on my race,” Mr. Kemp said during a brief interview after a town hall event in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. “I can’t control what other people are doing. I certainly can’t control the past. But I can control my own destiny and that’s what we’re doing.”

The governor has dodged several questions in recent days about the latest round of turmoil surrounding Mr. Walker: A Monday evening report from The Daily Beast said the former University of Georgia football player and outspoken abortion opponent paid for his then-girlfriend to have the procedure in 2009.

The New York Times has not confirmed the report. Mr. Walker has denied the story and threatened to file a defamation suit against the outlet. The litigation, however, has not yet materialized.

Asked about Mr. Kemp’s comments, Mr. Walker’s spokesman, Will Kiley, dismissed them as not “a real story.” In an interview with Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Walker said he was unfazed by the controversy and described himself as having “been redeemed.”

“It’s like they’re trying to bring up my past to hurt me,” Mr. Walker said of Democrats and the media. “But they don’t know that bringing up my past only energizes me.”

Most national Republican figures, in addition to the party’s most ardent supporters in Georgia, rallied behind Mr. Walker immediately after the article published, hopeful that conservative voters in the state would dismiss the report as false or ignore it. But Mr. Kemp has offered no specific support nor condemnation. His spokesman put out a broad statement in response on Tuesday, saying the governor’s main objective at this stage was working to secure a second term.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kemp did not answer a question about whether he would campaign alongside Mr. Walker. The two have not yet held joint events.

When asked by The Times if Mr. Walker’s troubles could damage the Republican ticket, Mr. Kemp said “That’s a question the voters will have to decide.”

“I’m not going to get into people’s personal lives,” he said. “Nobody’s asking me about that when I’m out on the road. They’re asking me, ‘Hey, how’s it going? What are you doing?’ Or they’re saying, ‘Thank you for keeping our economy open, we’re doing great.’”

Mr. Kemp has little political incentive to wade into a messy episode. Most polls of the Georgia governor’s race show him running ahead of his Democratic opponent, Ms. Abrams. He has also polled better than Mr. Walker, who has appeared to be in a tighter race against Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democratic.

Still, the governor has implored his supporters not to trust the numbers as he continues to hold fund-raisers and support the state Republican Party’s grass-roots outreach efforts. On Wednesday, Mr. Kemp was focused on pitching a second term to Black men. Republicans in Georgia have made a strong effort to make more appeals to Black voters this year, hoping even tiny inroads with the solid Democratic constituency might make a difference in a close race.

More than three dozen Black male business owners, entrepreneurs and party leaders gathered to listen to Mr. Kemp on Wednesday and asked questions largely related to business development and school choice. By the end of the event, its moderator, the Atlanta conservative radio host Shelley Wynter, asked if anyone present unsure of Mr. Kemp was “now sure” that they would support him. Several in the group raised their hands.

In the interview afterward, Mr. Kemp said he believed the Republican Party in Georgia could have an opening with the state’s rapidly changing demographics.

“I‘m proud of my record. I think we can earn a lot of minority votes with that,” he said. “And quite honestly, I think it will set the path for our party in the future.”

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