John Cornyn doubles down on support for embattled Georgia Republican Herschel Walker with Senate fundraising effort

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, left, and Herschel Walker, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia. (Amna Ijaz/The Texas Trbune And Richard Burkhart/Usa Today Network Via Reuters, Amna Ijaz/The Texas Trbune And Richard Burkhart/Usa Today Network Via Reuters)

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WASHINGTON — Texas’ senior U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has put together a $20 million fundraising operation to help the GOP take back the Senate in November, while doubling down on his support for the embattled Republican Herschel Walker of Georgia, who is accused of paying for a former girlfriend’s abortion.

Cornyn told The Texas Tribune he still supports Walker, who is running in Georgia against incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in a key race to the Republican plan to wrest control of the chamber. Democrats and Republicans each hold 50 seats in the Senate, but Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the tie-breaker.

“I do support Herschel because he may well be the 51st Republican elected this cycle,” Cornyn said in an interview Thursday. “I don’t think we can afford to pass on any one of these races.”

Walker has been at the center of a political firestorm in recent weeks over an allegation that the anti-abortion candidate paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009, a claim The Daily Beast supported with a receipt from the abortion clinic, a $700 check and a get-well-soon card signed by Walker. Walker denied paying for the abortion. Walker’s son has also publicly feuded with him, recently denouncing his campaign and arguing that the former pro football star was not in his childrens’ lives, though he is running on a campaign backing traditional family values.

Cornyn has helped raise nearly $150,000 for Walker as part of a fundraising effort, making Walker one of the challengers for whom Cornyn has raised the most money so far.

Cornyn, who spent four years as the chair of the Senate Republicans’ fundraising arm from 2009-13, said he was not surprised by the allegations that have surfaced in the Georgia campaign.

“They’re the product of opposition research. … That race is on a knife’s edge,” Cornyn said. “People who have never run for office, their first-time experience is an eye opener. … It’s not all fun.”

Cornyn, who is also anti-abortion, emphasized that he has no “personal knowledge” of the Walker abortion allegations but said “there are a lot of things, both real and imagined, in peoples’ pasts that become campaign fodder.”

But it’s not just Walker whom Cornyn has thrown his considerable support behind. Through his Joint Fundraising Committee, the senator has raised $11 million, transferring funds to Senate incumbents and challengers in crucial races around the country.

In total this cycle, Cornyn has helped raise over $500,000 for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, around $160,000 each for Republicans J.D. Vance of Ohio, Ted Budd of North Carolina and Blake Masters of Arizona and over $150,000 for Republicans Adam Laxalt of Nevada and Dr. Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania. He has also raised $7.9 million directly for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

This week Cornyn is sending over $125,000 to state GOP parties with particularly close Senate races to help with get-out-the-vote efforts, according to a person familiar with his political operation.

Cornyn said he was “pretty optimistic” the GOP would win a majority in the Senate. He argued that Democrats have made a bad calculation in hoping the abortion issue would help carry them through November, and said high inflation, border security and the movement to take funding away from police departments “have come home to roost.”

While the forecast for Republicans in the House has been rosy, the party’s prospect of capturing the Senate has been up in the air. Polling in key races suggests Democrats may have a chance to keep their majority. The gloom has been aided by concerns over the perceived weakness of some GOP candidates in high-stakes elections, including Walker and Oz, who has been questioned over his residency in Pennsylvania, faced allegations of killing dogs and other animals as a part of medical experiments at Columbia University, and come under fire for promoting questionable medical products on his hit TV show.

But Cornyn’s intervention with fundraising is in pursuit of what he thinks is an urgent goal — achieving a divided government for the remainder of President Joe Biden’s first term.

“As Sen. [Mitch] McConnell [of Kentucky] likes to say, the best time to do hard things is with divided government,” Cornyn said. “Where nobody can blame everything on other people and everyone sort of accepts responsibility for working together and trying to solve hard problems.”