With Donald Trump’s blessing, untested Walker poised to claim U.S. Senate nomination. But is he too much of a risk?
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
ATLANTA (CFP) — Are Georgia Republicans ready to hand their U.S. Senate nomination to a man who has never run for political office, hasn’t lived in the Peach State for decades, and has a personal history that includes mental health struggles and an ex-wife with a restraining order?
With Donald Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement, Hall of Fame football hero Herschel Walker enters the race as the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock next year. But with control of the Senate on the line, nominating Walker is certainly not the safest path, given the questions he will face about his politics and his past.
Will a Walker candidacy end in strategic triumph or bitter regret? Trump clearly believes the former; Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly nervous about the latter.
“I’m a kid from a small town in Georgia who’s lived the American dream, and I’m ready to fight to keep that dream alive for you,” said Walker in a campaign kickoff video posted August 25, which contained footage of his Heisman-winning exploits at the University of Georgia, spliced with workouts in the gym.
“I’m a conservative not because someone told me to be. I’m a conservative because I believe in smaller government, a strong military, personal responsibility and making sure all people have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
Watch Walker’s announcement video at bottom of page
The video did not mention Trump, who has been encouraging Walker to make a Senate run for months. But his campaign website features a famous photo of Walker doing an elbow bump with the former president during the 2020 presidential campaign.
The campaign rollout was unusual in that Walker entered the race quietly, with a statement and website, rather that with a public event in front of reporters, who might have asked uncomfortable questions.
Walker, 59, was born and raised in Wrightsville, a small town in Middle Georgia. He led UGA’s football team to its only consensus national title in 1980 and, in 1982, won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top college football player.
He went on to play professional football, first in the USFL (where he played for a team Trump owned) and then in the NFL, where he retired from the Dallas Cowboys in 1997.
Since his retirement, Walker had been living in Texas, where he established a poultry business. He registered to vote in Georgia just days before entering the Senate race.
In a 2008 book, Walker disclosed that he has suffered from dissociative identity disorder, which used to be called multiple personality disorder. He credited therapy and his Christian faith for his recovery.
In July, the Associated Press published an extensive investigative profile of Walker, based on business and court records. According to the report, Walker’s ex-wife got a protective order in 2005, alleging violent and threatening behavior. Walker was also involved in several contentious disputes with his business partners and may have made exaggerated claims about his record as a businessman.
Walker did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment for the story. Refusing to address the allegations will be much harder to do in the heat of a political campaign.
Walker’s current wife, Julie Blanchard, is also under investigation by Georgia election officials for casting an absentee ballot in the 2020 election, despite residing in Texas. As one of Walker’s rivals for the GOP Senate nomination, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, noted, “it makes it very difficult to talk about voter fraud after that.”
Black, who has won statewide office three times, will certainly be no pushover for Walker. But Trump’s full-throated support for Walker will make his task that much harder, as evidenced by Black’s tepid fundraising in what will become one of the most expensive races of the 2022 cycle. (He’s raised $703,000, compared to $34 million for Warnock.)
The Republican field had been frozen for months as potential Senate candidates waited for Walker’s decision, with several members of Georgia’s U.S. House delegation looking at bids. But there will be very little appetite to take on the Trump-Walker duo.
In a sense, Georgia Republicans find themselves in this situation because of Republican Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to think outside the box and pick uber-wealthy businesswoman Kelly Loeffler for a Senate seat in 2020. She quickly proved to be out of her element against Warnock — with debate performances that were painful to watch — and could not hold the seat.
So is it wise for Georgia Republicans to think outside the box again with Walker, having no idea what kind of political candidate he will make? Particularly against Warnock, equipped as he is with the power of incumbency, a mountain of money, and Barack Obama-level political skills?
Georgia Bulldog fans view Walker fondly, even reverently. But it has been 40 years since he led them to glory — years in which the state has changed almost beyond recognition.
Trump, of course, is the ultimate example of using celebrity to gain political power, which is no doubt why he thinks Walker is a slam-dunk Senate choice.
But time will tell whether nominating Walker is strategic genius or an ill-fated gimmick. Control of the Senate may very well hang on the answer.