In Missouri, a woman who had an affair with former Gov. Eric Greitens said he sexually assaulted her and blackmailed her with nude photos. The estranged wife of Army veteran Sean Parnell, the leading Republican candidate in Pennsylvania, twice took out temporary protection-from-abuse orders against him. The ex-wife of Herschel Walker, the football legend who is the front-runner for the GOP nomination in Georgia, claimed in divorce records that he was physically abusive and threatened to murder her.
Walker and Parnell have the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, which is still viewed as a game-changer in GOP primary politics. More than two dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault. Greitens is enthusiastically seeking the president’s backing.
Some GOP strategists have quietly fretted that the accusations could drag down the party as it seeks to win back suburban women who have flocked to the Democratic Party since the beginning of the Trump era. The races in Georgia and Pennsylvania, in particular, are expected to be expensive, bitterly contested and crucial to which party wins control of the Senate.
Republican senators, however, largely shrugged off concerns about the trio of candidates and their alleged offenses in interviews with HuffPost.
“Americans are pretty forgiving,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said when asked about the allegations against Walker. “I don’t think that’s a deal breaker. I actually think he’s quite a good candidate.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), herself a survivor of sexual assault and domestic abuse, acknowledged Walker “had some baggage there” but added the former football star had “addressed it.”
“Their constituencies will decide if they’re a worthy candidate and then move forward,” she said. “We’ll take it up after we get through those primaries.”
Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) studiously avoided weighing in on the race to replace him when asked about the allegations against Parnell.
“I’m not going to get into the merits of the respective candidates,” he said. “I just haven’t made a decision.”
And after repeatedly raising concerns about Walker’s candidacy and his ability to defeat Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, McConnell last week changed his tune and signaled Walker was an acceptable candidate a few days before Trump rallied with the Georgian.
“I think there’s every indication he’s going to be a good candidate,” McConnell told Politico.
But D.C. Republicans’ acquiescence doesn’t mean other GOP candidates back home won’t bring up the allegations. In Pennsylvania, a super PAC supporting Jeff Bartos ― a real estate developer challenging Parnell for the Republican nomination ― has aired ads attacking him over the protective order requests and comments he made on Fox News belittling women (Parnell’s campaign has said the comments were made as part of a segment in which panelists took intentionally absurd positions.)
“Sexist rhetoric. 911 calls. Restraining orders,” a female narrator says in the ad. “The real record of Sean Parnell.”
Little is actually known about the accusations against Parnell, which are part of a messy, ongoing divorce from his wife, Laurie. A judge granted both of the protection-from-abuse orders his wife sought and, in both cases, police asked Parnell to relinquish the firearms he owned. In the first case, the Parnells reached an agreement to end the order. In the second case, a judge ruled against Laurie Parnell’s request to make the order permanent.
Still, the campaigns for Bartos and a third candidate, former Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands, have both argued the allegations make Parnell “unelectable.” That hasn’t stopped Parnell from continuing to collect endorsements since the allegations emerged; both Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have endorsed him in recent days.
Far more disturbing are the accusations against Walker and Greitens. Walker’s ex-wife, who cited “physically abusive behavior” in her request for a divorce in 2001, told ABC News in 2008 that he once pointed a loaded gun at her head and told her he would “blow your f’ing brains out.” In a filing for a protective order that was granted in 2005, his ex-wife’s sister said Walker directly threatened to shoot both his ex-wife and her new boyfriend.
In a 2008 book, “Breaking Free,” Walker admits he was plagued by violent urges for much of his life, which he blames on dissociative identity disorder. He says therapy and his Christian faith helped him integrate his multiple personalities.
Walker is seen as a heavy favorite to win the GOP nomination to challenge Warnock, who took office on Jan. 20 after a runoff. State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is also running for the GOP nod with the backing of many local GOP officials, including former Gov. Nathan Deal and former Rep. Doug Collins.
The accusations against Greitens led to his resignation as governor, though he has denied taking the photos that were allegedly used as blackmail, and criminal charges against him were eventually dropped.
Though Georgia and Pennsylvania are key pickup opportunities for Republicans and Democrats, respectively, the race in Missouri is seen as heavily favoring the GOP after Trump won the state by 15 percentage points in 2020. Greitens is the best-known member of a crowded Republican primary field, and some in the party fear he could force the GOP to spend millions defending an otherwise safe seat next year.
At the moment, Republicans have watched Biden’s approval ratings with independents plummet and are bullish about their chances in key swing states. The Senate is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking votes giving Democrats control of the chamber.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story was imprecise about the allegations against Sean Parnell. A protection from abuse order can be granted in Pennsylvania for both physical violence or for “placing another person in reasonable fear of immediate serious bodily injury.”