Former football player Herschel Walker has filed paperwork to run for the GOP Senate nomination in Georgia, despite some Republican concerns that Walker’s candidacy could endanger the party’s chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock next year.
Republicans are concerned that Walker, who was urged to run by former President Donald Trump and is well known in the state from his time as football star at the University of Georgia, presents multiple problems as an untested candidate.
The Associated Press recently delved into Walker’s personal and business history, expanding on Walker’s 2008 book detailing his struggle with mental illness. The AP found that Walker threatened his ex-wife and overstated his chicken company’s success. The Atlanta Journal Constitution also reported on Monday that Walker’s wife was under investigation for possibly voting illegally in Georgia.
“If any Republican in Georgia told you they didn’t have concerns about his candidacy, they’d be lying to you. We all have concerns,” said Chip Lake, a GOP strategist in the state. Lake said Republicans are waiting to see how Walker campaigns and whether he is willing to answer tough questions about his past and his policy positions.
One Republican strategist involved in Senate races described Walker as “an opposition researcher’s dream.”
“This is a seat that Republicans need to win the Senate majority,” the strategist said. “If we allow the entire race to become about liabilities of the Republican candidate, we’re not going to be able to litigate all of the failures of the Democratic Senate majority that Raphael Warnock is enabling.”
A ‘spirited primary’
Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, did not echo those concerns, saying in a statement to CQ Roll Call that Walker is “a great American and a great Republican.”
“If he runs, he will join a strong group of Republican candidates and be a formidable candidate,” Hartline said. “Georgia Republicans will have a spirited primary. We’re confident that whoever wins the primary will be well-positioned to beat Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders’ favorite Democrat, Raphael Warnock.”
Warnock is a top target for Republicans, who need a net gain of just one Senate seat to take control of the chamber. Warnock defeated former GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler by 2 percentage points in a January special election runoff. President Joe Biden won Georgia by less than half a percentage point in November, becoming the first Democrat to win the state in 28 years. Georgia is one of eight states that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as a Senate battleground.
Walker’s candidacy has been the topic of discussion for months, and others running or considering running had been expecting it. While he has not made a formal announcement, he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday stating that he intends to run.
State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black released a video shortly after news broke that Walker was running, saying, “Herschel, welcome back to Georgia,” an apparent reference to Walker recently registering to vote in the state after living in Texas. Black called on Walker to attend a fish fry on Saturday so they could have “a discussion” about the future of the country.
Along with Black, former Navy Seal Latham Saddler, who worked in the Trump administration, and Air Force veteran Kelvin King are also running in the GOP primary.
None of the candidates have been able to match Warnock’s strong fundraising. As of June 30, Warnock had $10.5 million in his campaign account. Latham had nearly $1.1 million on hand, while Black had $680,000 and King had $567,000.
Lake noted that Walker starts off with some advantages in the primary, including high name recognition, a likely strong fundraising operation, and a potential endorsement from Trump. But Lake said Walker will still have to earn the nomination.
”This primary’s not going to be given to him,” Lake said.
The former president has encouraged Walker to run for Senate, saying in a March statement, “Run Herschel, run!” Walker, who appeared on Trump’s reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2009, is a vocal supporter of Trump, though the Washington Examiner reported that voting records show Walker did not vote in Trump’s first election in 2016.
Warnock’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the Georgia Democratic Party did weigh in on Walker’s candidacy.
“Walker’s entrance into Georgia’s chaotic GOP Senate primary is the nightmare scenario that Republicans have spent the entire cycle trying to avoid,” said party spokesperson Dan Gottlieb. “By the end of this long, divisive, and expensive intra-party fight, it’ll be clear that none of these candidates are focused on the issues that matter most to Georgians.”