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Evangelical voters grapple with Herschel Walker's controversial image

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tomorrow is the final day of voting in Georgia's runoff election for the U.S. Senate. In this state, where the evangelical vote is key, Christianity has been at the center of the race. But the Republican candidate, Herschel Walker, has been plagued by scandals over domestic violence and abortion. So how do evangelical voters reckon with the contradictions between a right-wing candidate's personal conduct and their political positions? We're joined by Timothy Head. He's the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative political advocacy group. He joins us from just outside Atlanta. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

TIMOTHY HEAD: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: A majority of Georgia voters who identify as evangelical Christians are supporting Herschel Walker in this race, even though his rival, Senator Raphael Warnock, is himself a minister. Why is the former football player their pick?

HEAD: Well, you know, (inaudible) - we've kind of worked our way through this election cycle. We've seen the policy contrasts become more and more stark. And at this point, you know, certainly economic issues are prevailing issues for all kinds of voters across the country. But social issues, especially (inaudible) - a policy issue, like the life question after the Dobbs decision has become front of mind and a clear contrast in the policy (inaudible) - by Raphael Warnock (inaudible) - a pro-choice minister versus Herschel Walker, who (inaudible) - identifies as a pro-life advocate.

MARTIN: We're having a hard time with your line. I'll just say that out loud. But I hear you saying economic issues are important, but centrally, it's about what evangelical Christians view as the life question, abortion. Multiple women have come forward and claimed that Herschel Walker paid for their abortions in the past. If you are voting for Walker because of his public anti-abortion position, how do you reconcile that?

HEAD: Well, you know, the questions that are (inaudible) - kind of being discussed around Walker's past (inaudible) - whereas, you know, he and his wife - his current wife have actually had about, you know, a 11- or 12-year history of being strong pro-life advocates. And so I think that demonstrated history here in the recent years has certainly assuaged most evangelical voters who are pro-life that Walker...

MARTIN: Although - I'm sorry to interrupt, but that...

HEAD: ...Would indeed be a strong pro-life advocate if he were to be in the Senate.

MARTIN: I'm sorry to interrupt you. But you, as a Christian, no doubt understand the difference between someone's public position on something and their personal behavior, and personal behavior reflects - is supposed to reflect Christian values.

HEAD: Yes, absolutely. And I think that, you know, (inaudible) - the history there is (inaudible) - certainly a challenging one. But a demonstrated history change, I think, has been pretty convincing (inaudible) - for most pro-life voters.

MARTIN: The Supreme Court overturned a constitutional right to an abortion. Do you think this issue should still have equal weight in determining how evangelical Christians vote?

HEAD: Well, I think it certainly changed the venue (ph) from being more of a federal issue to being more of a state issue. But first (inaudible) - the issue is very much still one in question from a public policy standpoint. And secondly, there certainly are efforts - have been discussed efforts at least for (inaudible) - laws in Washington, D.C. So I don't think that the Dobbs decision is going to erase the discussion (inaudible) - continue to be an issue for (inaudible) - to come.

MARTIN: Herschel Walker received roughly 200,000 fewer votes during this fall's primary election than Republican Governor Brian Kemp. What do you believe has kept some conservative voters from supporting him, Walker?

HEAD: Well, I think it's (inaudible) - that those almost 200,000 voters, mostly in suburban Atlanta - (inaudible) certainly had some kind of (inaudible) - around Herschel Walker's, you know, purported back - kind of backstory, if you will. And (inaudible) - I think that this - that's going to be (inaudible) - challenge here is trying to (inaudible) - one last time in these last probably two days here.

MARTIN: I want to apologize to listeners again for the roughness of this audio line. We'll try to get Timothy Head back for another conversation. Timothy Head, the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative political advocacy group in Georgia. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

HEAD: Of course. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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