The Daily Beast reported Monday night that Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia, paid for his pregnant then-abortion girlfriend in 2009.
Walker is in a toss-up race with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock for a Senate seat. According to FiveThirtyEight's midterm forecast, Georgia is the chamber's most likely "tipping-point" state. For example, Republicans have a 60-in-100 chance of winning the Senate if they win Georgia. Democrats have an 89-in-100 chance of winning the chamber if they win the state.
How bad will Walker's scandal be? Given the controversy and the salaciousness of the story, it's reportedly caused, it's tempting to think it could sink his chances. That's no guarantee.
Scandals affect candidates' election chances. Based on an analysis in 2018, scandal-plagued incumbents did nine percentage points worse in their next general election. This analysis considered the candidate's previous victory margin, the partisan lean of their district, generic-ballot polling, congressional approval ratings, and the incumbent's voting record. This led us to include scandals as a midterm forecast variable.
This new revelation about Walker, who denies the allegation, hasn't changed our Georgia Senate race forecast — at least not yet. It's not a scandal, for one. Per our forecast, a scandal is a credible accusation of criminal or ethical wrongdoing. Walker's hypocritical abortion payment wasn't illegal. If hypocrisy were enough to be scandalized, most politicians would be.
Walker is already a scandal. Multiple scandals have surfaced before and during his campaign. Walker's ex-wife claimed he threatened to kill her and got a restraining order in 2005. He and a partner were sued for not repaying $625,000. Democrats accuse him of campaign finance violations. The Daily Beast reported in June that Walker had three unacknowledged children.
The scandal barely affects our forecast right now. Only 6% of Deluxe's Georgia Senate forecast is based on "fundamentals" like scandals, Georgia's partisan lean, Warnock's incumbency, and candidate fundraising. Georgia is highly polled. Because we have so many polls and Election Day is close, 60% of the forecast is based on survey data.
No polls account for Walker's abortion controversy because it's so recent. Walker's bad press may hurt his popularity. Walker's adult son Christian, a conservative social-media celebrity, has posted critical tweets and videos about the candidate (including one accusing Walker of "threatening to kill us"), which could keep Walker's unsavory personal life in the news. This won't affect him unless he drops 9 points in the polls. Even if the controversy doesn't hurt Walker, if it prevents him from gaining, that's a problem for the Republican.
Walker may not have many supporters left. Democrats have spent weeks highlighting Walker's scandals. Georgia is an inelastic state with few swing voters. The National Republican Senatorial Committee will also campaign in Georgia. Many Republican and Republican-leaning voters in Georgia may feel too much is at stake (Senate control) for this allegation to sway their vote. Partisanship trumps scandal, we wrote in 2018.
We'll have to wait and see how this story affects public opinion. We'll watch Georgia polling closely in the coming weeks.