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Genius or gimmick? Georgia GOP puts its Senate hopes on Herschel Walker

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

GeorgiaATLANTA (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?

Picture of Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, R-Georgia

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.

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Second time’s a charm? Charles Booker makes new run for Kentucky U.S. Senate seat

Former Democratic legislator from Louisville will face uphill climb to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Rand in 2022

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

KentuckyLOUISVILLE (CFP) — When he launched his first run for the U.S. Senate in 2020, few observers gave Charles Booker a snowball’s chance in a Kentucky August.

booker 2

Democrat Charles Booker announces U.S. Senate run

He was just 32, had served in the legislature for just one year, and was trying to wrestle the Democratic nomination away from Amy McGrath, a fundraising powerhouse who had the full backing of Senate Democrats and their leader, Chuck Schumer.

But then, Booker took a leading role in social justice protests in Louisville after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, his charismatic style caught the imagination of the Democratic left, and — amid an uneven, uninspiring and hyper-cautious campaign from McGrath — he came within 16,000 votes of pulling off what would have one of the year’s biggest primary upsets.

Exiting the race, Booker told his supporters, “Don’t ever let someone tell you what’s impossible.”

A year later, he’s trying the impossible again, this time with a run for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat, held by Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul.

“A lot of people don’t believe that change is possible in Kentucky. We’re going to prove the doubters wrong,” Booker told supporters at his kickoff rally in Louisville July 1. “We’re going to win this race, and we’re going to transform Kentucky, and it starts right now. Let’s go.”

Video of Booker’s announcement speech at end of story.

And Booker made it clear that whether or not his optimism is borne out, or whether or not the race against Paul ends up being competitive in the end, his quest to unseat Paul will be fiery, unapologetically liberal and in-your-face, in a way McGrath never was.

“Randal Howard Paul — I see you. I see you, but you don’t see us,” Booker said. “Rand Paul thinks we are a joke. He mocks us whenever he opens his mouth. He’s mocking us. He’s an embarrassment to Kentucky because he does not care.”

“He thinks his job is to stir dysfunction, to weaponize hate and essentially dismiss Kentuckians altogether.”

Rand’s response to Booker’s announcement telegraphed the likely Republican strategy against him; namely, pounding him on his more left-wing positions in a conservative state: “I just don’t think defunding the police and forcing taxpayers to pay for reparations will be very popular in Kentucky.”

What happened to McGrath in 2020 illustrates the decidedly uphill nature of Booker’s quest in 2022. She spent $90 million to lose to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell by 20 points, failing to even break 40%.

Of course, McConnell is a more formidable political force than Paul, and McGrath’s near loss to Booker in the Democratic primary — in which he beat her in Louisville-Jefferson County by 36,000 votes — was a glaring sign of her weakness as a candidate. Booker does have stronger political skills, and it seems likely at this point that he won’t have to battle through a primary.

Still, Donald Trump carried Kentucky by 26 points in 2020, and Paul heads into the race with Trump’s endorsement. And a Democrat has not won a Senate race in the commonwealth for 30 years.

Booker’s theory of the race is that he can reach, rally and motivate voters on the left, rather than trimming his sails to appear more moderate, which did not work for McGrath. To that end, he has hired two campaign operatives involved in Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock’s runoff win in January, which won with a rallying-the-base strategy.

Booker, like Warnock, is a charismatic African-American candidate with an engaging, pulpit speaking style. However, Kentucky has a much smaller black population than Georgia and is much less urban. Louisville’s impact on the statewide vote will not be as determinative as Atlanta’s was.

Indeed, Booker’s loss to McGrath shows the challenges of a base-centric style in the Bluegrass. He beat her in Louisville and Lexington, but she won the primary by carrying most of the rest of the state.

So, the key question for 2022 is, can he find enough votes in more heavily populated parts of the state to overcome Paul’s margins in more rural areas? Or can he cut into those margins with an economic appeal to rural voters in poorer counties in Eastern Kentucky, where Democrats still have local influence?

Another wild card in this race is the amount of institutional support Booker might get from national Democrats, for a race that is seen as rather less than winnable. The powers-that-be who went all in for McGrath may be wary of going down that road again, although, as Paul’s foil, Booker should be able to raise enough money on his own to be competitive.

It is not impossible for a Democrat to win statewide in Kentucky, as Governor Andy Beshear proved in 2019. Then again, Beshear was running against Matt Bevin, whose performance as governor had made him as popular as a bad rash. Paul starts the race in much better shape.

Booker starts the race with an audacious belief in his own chances, and he has clearly decided that caution is not the better part of valor. While that may or may not end up making a senator, it will make the Kentucky Senate race among them most compelling of the 2022 cycle.

Video of Charles Booker’s announcement

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Former Georgia U.S. Rep. Doug Collins won’t seek statewide office in 2022

Republican passes on primary challenge  to Governor Brian Kemp encouraged by Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — Former Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has announced he won’t seek any statewide office in 2022, deciding to forgo a primary challenge to Governor Brian Kemp or a race against Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock.

In an announcement on Twitter, Collins said he planned to stay active in politics but gave no details of his future plans.

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Doug Collins

“For those who may wonder, this is goodbye for now, but probably not forever,” he said. “I do plan on staying involved in shaping our conservative message to help Republicans win back the House and the Senate and help more strong conservative candidates get elected here in Georgia.”

Collins, 54, from Gainesville, was elected to represent Georgia’s 9th U.S. House District in 2012 but gave up the seat to run in a special election for a vacant U.S. Senate seat in 2020. He finished third in an all-party contest, which Warnock won in a runoff.

After the 2020 election, Donald Trump, unhappy that Kemp wasn’t doing more to help him overturn his election loss in Georgia, publicly urged Collins to challenge Kemp in this year’s GOP primary.

Collins — one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in the House — could have posed a threat to Kemp with Trump behind him, which has now been removed with his decision not to run.

Kemp has so far drawn only one significant Republican challenger — Vernon Jones, a former Democrat who served as chief executive of DeKalb County before switching parties to support Trump in 2020.

Collins is the second major Republican to take a pass on the Senate race against Warnock, joining former U.S. Senator David Perdue.

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Conservative firebrand U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks enters Alabama U.S. Senate race

Announcement comes less than 3 months after Brooks exhorted pro-Trump crowd to “start kicking ass” prior to Capitol riot

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks entered the chase for Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat Monday with a campaign kickoff where he wrapped himself firmly in the mantle of Donald Trump as he tries to navigate what is likely to become a crowded primary field.

Brooks announced his candidacy at a rally in Huntsville where shared the stage with Stephen Miller — a Trump aide who was the architect of Trump’s restrictive immigration policies — and continued to promote the former president’s unfounded claims of election fraud.

“In 2020, America suffered the worst voter fraud and election theft in history,” Brooks said. “And all Americans would know that if the news media was not suppressing the truth as they’re doing.”

Brooks also noted that he had been endorsed twice by Trump in his congressional campaigns and helped Trump fight what he termed “defamatory, hyper-partisan impeachment scams.”

“As President Trump can vouch, I don’t cut and run,” Brooks said. ” I stand strong when the going gets tough.”

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, announces campaign for U.S. Senate (WZDX News)

Brooks, 66, has represented Alabama’s 5th U.S. House District, which covers the northern part of the state, since 2011. He made an unsuccessful bid for the state’s other Senate seat in 2017, coming in third in the GOP primary.

The announcement of his latest campaign comes less than three months after Brooks addressed pro-Trump rally in Washington on January 6 in which he told the crowd, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

Members of the crowd later stormed the Capitol, resulting in at least five deaths and more than 400 people facing criminal charges.

Brooks has remained unrepentant and refused to apologize, saying he doesn’t believe there is any relationship between his remarks at the rally and the subsequent riot. However, he is facing at least one lawsuit so far over the speech.

Ironically, when Brooks ran for the Senate in 2017, he was criticized for being insufficiently supportive of Trump because of remarks he made about then-candidate Trump in 2016 after release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump bragged about being sexually aggressive toward women.

Since then, however, Brooks has been one of Trump’s staunchest and most outspoken defenders in Congress and supported Trump’s assertions of voter fraud in the 2020 election, which have been summarily rejected by courts and investigators.

The Senate seat is opening because of the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

Lynda Blanchard, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia, is already in the race and, like Brooks, playing up her ties to the former president.

Also considering getting into the Republican primary are Secretary of State John Merrill and Katie Britt, the CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the lone Democrat in the Yellowhammer State’s congressional delegation, is also considering a run, although the race is likely to be an uphill battle for any Democrat.

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Alabama U.S. Senator Richard Shelby announces retirement

Shelby’s departure will likely spark Republican primary battle to be his successor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Saying that “for everything there is a season,” Alabama Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby announced Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2022, bringing to a close a political career that has made him that longest-serving senator in his state’s history and triggering what is likely to be a pitched battle among Republicans to replace him.

“Serving in the U.S. Senate has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” Shelby said in a statement. “Although I plan to retire, I am not leaving today.  I have two good years remaining to continue my work in Washington.  I have the vision and the energy to give it my all. “

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama

Shelby, 86, was elected to the U.S. House in 1978 and to the Senate in 1986, serving at various times as the chair of the appropriations, banking, intelligence and rules committees.

He was a Democrat until switching parties in 1994, as Alabama was transitioning from being solidly Democrat to solidly Republican and the GOP won control of Congress.

He routinely won re-election by large margins, mostly recently a 28-point win in 2016.

While his decision to retire is unlikely to open up a pickup opportunity for Democrats in solidly red Alabama, it is expected to trigger a free-for-all among Republicans vying to succeed him.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks from Huntsville and Secretary of State John Merrill have both indicated they are considering the race. Brooks ran unsuccessfully for the state’s other Senate seat in a special election in 2017; Merrill dropped out of the race for the same seat in 2020.

Other candidates being mentioned include U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer from Hoover; Katie Boyd Britt, a former Shelby aide who now runs the Business Council of Alabama; former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, who served a stormy tenure as attorney general in the Trump administration; and Bradley Byrne from Mobile, who gave up his U.S. House seat in 2020 to make an unsuccessful Senate run.

On key to the eventual make-up of the Senate field will be Governor Kay Ivey’s decision whether to seek another term as governor in 2022; if she doesn’t, some possible Senate candidates may opt for the governor’s race instead.

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