What it was like covering Herschel Walker's week of controversy in Georgia: Reporter's notebook

The GOP Senate hopeful denied paying for a woman's abortion in 2009.

October 9, 2022, 6:08 PM

Lalee Ibssa is one of seven ABC News campaign reporters embedded in battleground states ahead of the November midterm elections.

Ibssa is based in Georgia -- which means she was at the center of last week's major political news as GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker, a staunchly anti-abortion candidate, denied a report in The Daily Beast that he paid for an ex-girlfriend's abortion in 2009.

Ibssa tracked the controversy closely. But she also followed Stacey Abrams' rematch with Gov. Brian Kemp and more. Below, she recaps her week.

See more of Ibssa's work with the embed team and anchor George Stephanopoulos on Hulu's "Power Trip."

Sunday and Monday: A busy start -- then the Walker twist

Like millions of other Americans across the country, I kicked off my Sunday with an NFL football game -- just for a different reason than the attendees. I roamed the parking lot of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta looking to speak with Falcons fans about their thoughts on Georgia's highly anticipated midterm election matchups. Herschel Walker's history as an iconic University of Georgia football player in the 1980s was an interesting context to conversations about the businessman and former football pro-turned-Senate hopeful.

Next, I attended a Stacey Abrams town hall in Duluth, Georgia, where the Democratic nominee rallied support in her race for governor against Republican incumbent Brian Kemp.

After that event, I raced to a local coffee shop, Cafe Rothem, to meet ABC News congressional correspondent Rachel Scott before ABC's sit-down with Abrams.

Among the topics covered in that interview was Abrams' views on the validity of her race with Kemp, given how she had accused him of suppressing votes in 2018. She stressed that she wouldn't "question the outcome" of November's election but would continue to "question" what she felt were excessive voting restrictions.

Before I became an embed for the midterms, I worked on the team covering Congress, so it was great to be reunited with my fellow Hill colleagues: Rachel, Allie and Ben.

PHOTO: Lalee Ibssa, an embedded campaign reporter for ABC News, interviews a Walker supporter outside of a fundraiser in Soperton, Georgia.
Lalee Ibssa, an embedded campaign reporter for ABC News, interviews a Walker supporter outside of a fundraiser in Soperton, Georgia.
ABC News

When correspondents come into town on assignment, not only are embeds still in charge of keeping up with their campaigns, they usually assist on the correspondents' shoots as well. Leading up to Abrams' interview with Scott, I helped pull research, form interview questions and other miscellaneous work (such as driving around Duluth to scope out potential interview locations).

Though tasked with more responsibilities, I always find that working with correspondents, like Rachel, gives me great opportunities to grow as I watch them interview candidates.

On Monday, I covered Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock's event in Dunwoody where he celebrated the Jewish New Year. While Warnock was up on stage speaking to reporters, The Daily Beast published a report in which an unnamed woman claimed Herschel Walker reimbursed her fo ran abortion more than a decade ago -- something Walker promptly denied.

The woman provided a receipt from an abortion clinic, a bank deposit receipt with an image of a $700 check that she said was signed by Walker sent within a week of the abortion and also a "get well" card that she said was signed by Walker.

Immediately, reporters in the room with Warnock started glancing over at each other, all of us quickly reading through The Daily Beast article as we knew we'd get a chance to talk to the senator after the event had wrapped.

As I prepared to head out on the trail this year, my mentors at ABC News would often tell me to "stay ready," and it was times like these when I knew why that was such a common -- and useful -- reminder.

Though I was still at Warnock's event, I was immediately flooded with requests from multiple ABC News platforms (which span TV shows, radio, digital and more). The needs ranged from questions about Walker's position on abortion to where video of his best stump speeches were located.

Having been embedded in Georgia for months following candidates like Walker, I had a slew of archives ready that allowed me to be prepared and focused.

The Daily Beast article set off a whirlwind week of news, leading me to travel hours across the state in search of more answers from Walker.

Tuesday and Wednesday: Tracking Walker

In the wake of the woman's allegations to The Daily Beast, the focus of the week quickly turned to the Senate hopeful's campaign.

On Tuesday, Walker held a prayer luncheon event at the First Baptist Church Atlanta. As soon as we arrived on site, I along with the other news outlets there were told the event was closed to press.

I couldn't wait in the parking lot, so I had to go across the street and wait on the side of the road in hopes of catching Walker and hearing directly from him about the controversy. Though we had seen Walker enter and exit the church, the distance was too great to try and shout questions, and his car would not stop when they drove past reporters.

Next, I went to Black Radio United for the Vote's town hall at Clark Atlanta University. Abrams, Kemp and Warnock were all in attendance alongside a handful of state representatives. I watched as each candidate gave their stump speeches to the audience and then were asked questions by moderators. Though some of them talked about reproductive rights, none hit on the recent allegations against Walker.

PHOTO: ABC congressional correspondent Rachel Scott (center) talks with ABC News embedded campaign reporter Lalee Ibssa (right) at a Herschel Walker rally in Wadley, Georgia.
ABC congressional correspondent Rachel Scott (center) talks with ABC News embedded campaign reporter Lalee Ibssa (right) at a Herschel Walker rally in Wadley, Georgia.
ABC News

Searching for reaction from Republican officials to further my reporting on Georgia's Senate Race, after the event I attempted to ask Kemp about his support for Walker as he was walking out but was blocked by security as campaign staffers told me the governor wouldn't be taking questions.

The hunt for Walker on Wednesday then led me to Soperton, Georgia, along with Scott and her producer, Allison Pecorin. Walker was holding a fundraiser; however, reporters were once again unable to attend. Since we were told Walker would not be available to speak with us, we decided to make the most of our efforts and waited across the street to talk to supporters as they left the fundraiser. They told us they were sticking with Walker, saying they either didn't believe the allegations or said it didn't affect their vote.

On our way back from Soperton to Atlanta, the Walker campaign announced that he would be holding a campaign stop in Wadley, Georgia, the next day. It was our first opportunity to ask him our questions.

Thursday: Getting some answers

After almost three days of waiting, the ABC News team and other reporters in Georgia finally got our chance to speak with Walker for the first time since The Daily Beast report. (That story had been followed by further claims from the unnamed woman, who told The Daily Beast that she also shared a child with Walker; he responded that The Daily Beast's articles were all false.)

I left for Atlanta at 6 a.m. on Thursday to drive three hours southeast of Atlanta as Walker campaign staffers told the press to be set up by 9:30 a.m. for a 10 a.m. campaign stop.

I arrived at the lumber company where the rally was being held at 9 a.m.; but as soon as I arrived, campaign staffers sent a notice that the campaign stop was being pushed to 1 p.m.

When Walker finally arrived, he gave a speech mostly focused on sports, with most of the reporters just gearing up for his press conference afterward.

PHOTO: Embedded ABC News campaign reporter Lalee Ibssa (seated) works while covering Herschel Walker outside First Baptist Church Atlanta.
Embedded ABC News campaign reporter Lalee Ibssa (seated) works while covering Herschel Walker outside First Baptist Church Atlanta.
ABC News

In brief remarks, Walker attacked Democrats before taking questions from reporters. Walker gave Scott the first question at the event.

"Your own son has said that you're not a family man. He has called you a liar. Why should Georgia voters believe your words over his?" Scott asked, referring to public criticism from Walker's son Christian, a social media personality.

"I love my son so much. Man, I love him to death. And you know what, I've always loved him," Walker replied, "no matter what my son says."

"Power Trip" releases new episodes on Sundays on Hulu.