Truth-checking Georgia’s election season mudslinging

(LR) Gubernatorial candidates Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams and US Senate candidates Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock

Kemp: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images; Abrams, Walker, Warnock: Megan Varner/Getty Images

‘Tis the season for political candidates and operatives to drag their opponents’ names through the mud by way of campaign mailers, TV ads, and in-person attacks. As Georgia nears the November 8 election, voters are inundated with persistent and sometimes even false claims about the folks vying to be their leaders in government, so Atlanta magazine fact-checked some of the most prominent midterm election season assertions. Take a look:

CLAIM: Democratic US Senator Raphael Warnock sent pandemic relief money to the Boston Marathon bomber and other “criminals in prison.”

REALITY: This claim, posed in ads by the One Nation America political action committee (PAC), lacks a lot of context. Obviously, Warnock didn’t mail stimulus checks to convicted criminals like Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tasrnaev; the senator supported the largely Democrat-backed American Rescue Plan Act, which did send money to some prison inmates after a federal judge ruled the IRS couldn’t withhold payments from people behind bars. But in Tasrnaev’s instance, the convicted terrorist ultimately had to hand over his payment to the victims of his attack.

CLAIM: Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams called Georgia the “worst state” to live in.

REALITY: She did say that, as many Republicans and conservative groups have repeatedly reminded voters, although it’s hardly the full quote. During a stump speech in May, she said, “I am tired of hearing about being the best state in the country to do business when we are the worst state in the country to live. When you’re no. 48 for mental health, when you’re no. 1 for maternal mortality, when you have an incarceration rate that’s on the rise and wages that are on the decline, then you are not the No. 1 place to live.”

CLAIM: Republican Governor Brian Kemp wants to further restrict access to abortion and ban contraception in Georgia.

REALITY: Kemp said during the Atlanta Press Club’s October 17 gubernatorial candidate debate that he had no intention of making it any harder to terminate a pregnancy than the legislation he signed in 2019—the controversial, so-called “heartbeat bill,” which is being challenged in court—already had. In a WSB-TV debate on October 30, he said he wouldn’t “say yes or no to any specific piece of legislation” when asked if he’d sign further abortion limits into law, adding that he wouldn’t pursue new new restrictions, but also that “we’ll look at those when the time comes.”

The governor was heard in a secret recording shared by political news site Heartland Signal allegedly saying banning the morning-after pill and other emergency contraceptives was something the Georgia legislature has the power to do, but his campaign later stated that Kemp has “never opposed access to contraception,” according to 11Alive.

CLAIM: Republican Senate race contender Herschel Walker is a domestic abuser.

REALITY: A Republican Accountability Project PAC television ad featuring an older interview with Walker’s ex-wife Cindy Grossman paints him as physically and emotionally abusive to his family. It shows Grossman claiming the former football player had threatened her with guns and knives. In his book, Breaking Free, Walker insinuated he doesn’t remember any of the alleged assaults, and he attributed his erratic behavior to his dissociative identity disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder) which, he claims, he has since overcome.

Grossman, though, wasn’t the only woman to accuse Walker of being dangerous and abusive: Myka Dean, a former business partner who had an “on-off” relationship with Walker, in 2012 filed a police report claiming he’d threatened to “Blow her head off.” Dean died in 2019, and Walker’s campaign has dismissed her claims as false, despite a responding officer’s note that he had made “extreme threats,” the Associated Press reported.

CLAIM: Republican Burt Jones, running for lieutenant governor, tried to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

REALITY: That’s true. In December 2020, Jones and 15 other Trump allies purporting to be certified electors, filed bogus paperwork that wrongly claimed the then-president had won the election in Georgia. (In fact, Trump famously lost to Joe Biden by less than 12,000 votes here, prompting the former commander-in-chief to call Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January to demand he “find 11,780 votes.”) The scheme has landed Jones and the other false electors under the microscope of a sprawling investigation in Fulton County into alleged election interference on Trump’s behalf.

CLAIM: Democrat Charlie Bailey, Jones’s opponent, got caught driving drunk.

REALITY: Jones has said Bailey’s 2011 arrest for charges of driving under the influence should disqualify the Democrat from seeking the state’s second highest office, but Bailey was never convicted, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Police records and court documents reviewed by the newspaper indicate Bailey was pulled over in Buckhead for having a busted tail light, and police smelled alcohol on his breath. Bailey, an attorney, refused a breathalyzer and field sobriety test and was arrested. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser charge—misdemeanor reckless driving—and was sentenced to a year of probation, 100 hours of community service, and attendance at a driving safety course.

CLAIM: Abrams cried #StopTheSteal long before Donald Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen.

REALITY: After losing to Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election, Abrams refused to admit defeat, repeatedly suggesting her Republican opponent, who at the time was Georgia’s secretary of state, leveraged his position as the state’s top elections official to rig the race in his favor. She said, “We won,” during an interview on The View in 2019, according to the Washington Post.

Abrams has since sought to distinguish her complaints about election integrity from Trump’s, claiming she’s at least acknowledged the results but still feared “the system was broken.” She told the 19th in September, “My point was that the access to the election was flawed, and I refuse to concede a system that permits citizens to be denied access. That is very different than someone claiming fraudulent outcome.”

CLAIM: Kemp signed legislation creating “one of the nation’s harshest voter suppression laws.”

REALITY: That’s subjective, but the controversial Senate Bill 202, signed by Kemp in 2021, did create new voting restrictions and made it harder to cast an absentee ballot. The law reduced the amount of time voters have to request absentee ballots, imposed new ID requirements for absentee votes, and made it illegal for election officials to mail absentee ballots to all voters. It also reduced access to absentee ballot drop boxes, banned the provision of food and water to voters waiting in line, and yielded more oversight control to the state legislature and governor.

CLAIM: Walker, a pro-life candidate, has paid for multiple abortions.

REALITY: Two women have credibly accused Walker of facilitating the termination of their pregnancies. Walker has called the claims false and defamatory, and that he doesn’t even know the women. But the first accuser, who says she used to date Walker, provided the Daily Beast with a receipt for the procedure from an abortion clinic and a get well card apparently signed by Walker, and the New York Times unearthed records indicating he had paid the woman child support in the past.

Gloria Allred, an attorney representing the second accuser, showed journalists a receipt reportedly from the hotel where Walker’s then-girl friend stayed while getting an abortion, a photo that seemed to place him there, and a recording of a phone call between the couple, in which Walker supposedly said, “I want to say I love you and I was thinking about you.”

CLAIMS: [Insert candidate here] is just getting rich.

REALITY: Yeah, that’s not uncommon. Some conservatives are up in arms over the fact that Warnock’s income spiked during his first year in the Senate. Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the senator is head pastor, paid him more than $7,000 monthly—on top of his $174,000 government salary—as a “housing allowance” in 2021, according to the AJC. Although that raised some eyebrows, ethics experts told the paper it seemed above board.

Kemp has grown his net worth by $3.4 million since his 2018 election, the AJC reported, largely by reducing his personal debts by some $6.3 million. Since the same election, Abrams’ net worth swelled from almost $110,000 to upwards of $3 million, according to the Daily Beast. The lion’s share of her wealth increase came from paid speeches, personal investments, book deals, and serving as executive director of the Southern Economic Advancement Project and board member of California-based green energy company Heliogen.

Walker, though, seems to be the richest among them—although his 2021 financial disclosures reportedly lacked required information—touting a net worth of somewhere between $29 million and $65 million.


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