WADLEY, Ga. - Herschel Walker stuck to his script as he faced reporters on Thursday in his first public appearance since the self-described "pro-life" Senate candidate was accused of paying for an ex-girlfriend's abortion - a scandal that could imperil what remains one of Republicans' best pickup opportunities in the fight for control of the chamber.
As additional details emerged, Walker continued to make blanket denials while refusing to answer more specific questions.
Walker traveled to this small town in eastern Georgia to hold a 16-minute rally with employees of a rural lumber mill. Then Walker turned to the reporters, saying he wanted to talk about President Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, and the governing that has led to rising costs for farmers and consumers.
"But I know why you're here," a subdued Walker told the crowd of state and national reporters who had waited all day for his arrival at the location, more than two and a half hours southeast of Atlanta. "You're here because the Democrats are desperate to hold onto this seat here. They're desperate to make this race about my family."
Georgia, a newly purple state where the retired football star has been running a tight race against Warnock, is seen by Republicans as a realistic seat to flip as GOP candidates in other battlegrounds find themselves in increasingly difficult contests.
Walker's campaign held the relatively private event at Battle Lumber Company, a wood plant operated by a supporter, as a way for the candidate to return to the campaign trail for the final, grueling four and a half weeks of the election.
After news of the abortion allegation broke Monday night, Walker did not attend any public events Tuesday and Wednesday, instead choosing to twice appear on a fairly friendly platform, Fox News. His campaign said they saw a fundraising surge during that time. On Wednesday night, the Daily Beast reported that the woman in question, who remains anonymous, is also the mother of one of Walker's children. Despite his young adult son, Christian Walker, slamming his father's denial as a lie, Walker on Thursday continued to say the reports were false - and that his campaign would continue full-speed.
"I am not deterred," he told reporters. "I am not backing down. The stakes are too high."
Warnock has sought to avoid commenting directly on Walker's latest scandal, and Democratic groups have not yet seized on the issue with television ads. Christian Walker has continued to weigh in on the scandal this week, suggesting his father was "not a family man" and has "lived a life of DESTROYING other peoples' lives."
It's unclear whether the allegations, which were first reported by the Daily Beast and have not been corroborated by any other news outlets, have yet to reach most average voters.
Jefferson County, where the rally was held, borders Walker's native Johnson County and has a population that is about 50 percent Black.
On the rural highways leading into Wadley, just a small number of campaign signs could be seen displayed in front yards - a few each for Walker, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, Warnock and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Up the road from Battle Lumber Company, a breakfast crowd had formed inside Jet Food Stores, a corner gas station. Despite a raging television ad war between the two candidates, the men seated at the tables inside said they hadn't heard much talk of Walker as a Senate candidate - and haven't given much thought to the upcoming election.
"I've been knowing him for a while," said one man, who asked not to be identified, referring to watching Walker's sports career unfold. "He's my favorite football player."
Dining on a McDonald's breakfast in Louisville, 10 miles from Walker's lumber mill event, Jimmie Gibbons said he thinks Walker "can't handle" the job of senator.
"He's not qualified," said Gibbons, a lifelong resident of the rural Georgia town, who is supporting Warnock. "He don't have any business running."
Gibbons said he believed most African Americans in the area are backing Warnock - an observation supported by statewide polling data - while he suspects most of the white voters around were for Walker. Asked if he knew of any Black voters supporting Walker, Gibbons chuckled.
"No, he said. "Not at all."
The Republican Senate nominee seemed to concede in a conservative radio interview earlier Thursday that if he had paid for the abortion, "there's nothing to be ashamed of," despite his hardline anti-abortion stance throughout his campaign.
"Had that happened, I would have said it, because it's nothing to be ashamed of there," Walker told radio host Hugh Hewitt. "You know, people have done that, but I know nothing about it. And if I knew about it, I would be honest and talk about it, but I know nothing about that.
Asked later about the comment by reporters, Walker said he said he was only referring to other events in his past involving his ex-wife and son Christian, but "nothing to do with what this woman said."
To date, Democrats have had a spending advantage in Georgia, where Warnock and outside Democratic super PACs have dropped $81 million on advertisements, compared to Republicans' $71 million. The GOP has pointed to the spending gap and Walker's ability to stay neck and neck with Warnock in spite of it as a sign of the party's strength this midterm cycle.
Democrats are on track to continue to spend more on air than Republicans in the final month.
Kelly Hooper contributed to this report.