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Republicans fret as Walker stumbles in Georgia: ‘He needs help’

Anxiety is setting in among Republicans over Herschel Walker’s bid to oust Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) in Georgia after a series of unforced errors and negative headlines that have rocked the former football star’s general election campaign. 

Walker, who was endorsed by former President Trump early on and went largely unchallenged in the GOP primary, has been beset for months by damaging revelations about his business record and personal life, including an admission that he fathered three children he had not previously disclosed publicly. 

Walker’s troubles have been underscored by recent polls that show him trailing Warnock. One survey from Quinnipiac University released last month found the incumbent Democrat leading by a staggering 10-point margin, while a more recent poll conducted for the AARP put Warnock ahead by 3 points. 

“He needs help. He needs to be much better prepared because when Labor Day rolls around, he’s going to have to be able to articulate and do it consistently and do it coherently,” said Chuck Clay, a former Georgia state senator and state GOP chair. “He’s got himself two or three months. He’s a smart guy. But he needs focus. He needs to get that part of the campaign down. A Heisman Trophy isn’t going to bring him a victory.” 

In a tacit acknowledgement of the challenges hampering his candidacy, Walker called in a team of veteran Republican operatives earlier this month in an effort to revamp his campaign. Among the new additions to Walker’s team were Chip Lake, a longtime Georgia strategist, and Gail Gitcho, a veteran GOP operative who served as communications director for Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) 2012 presidential campaign. 

Republicans say there’s still time for Walker to turn things around. Election Day is still more than three months away and, despite Walker’s early missteps, his campaign has appeared more disciplined and focused in recent days. 

In a stump speech in Ocilla, Ga., on Tuesday, Walker kept things brief but clear, homing in on a message that Warnock “wants to vote with Joe Biden more than he wants to vote for Georgia.” 

“I think it’s way too premature to jump to conclusions about Herschel Walker’s candidacy,” Alex Conant, a veteran Republican strategist, said. “You don’t find out what candidates are made of in July or August. You find out in September and October.

“He’s going to have every opportunity to prove to voters that he deserves to be a senator.”  

Still, the list of stumbles for Walker is long. He was widely panned for falsely claiming that he worked in law enforcement, as well as for embellishing his business successes. He also drew ridicule earlier this month for making incoherent remarks about climate change, during which he claimed that America’s “good air” moves over to China, while China’s “bad air” “moves over to our good air space.” 

And in a race that could very well determine partisan control of the Senate next year, Republicans are acutely aware of the potential costs of any missteps on the campaign trail. The GOP needs to net just one seat this year to recapture its majority in the Senate, and Georgia remains among its top targets. 

“I think given how close the state is, candidate quality is going to matter. And we’re going to find out over the next few months if Herschel Walker is a good candidate,” Conant said. “In a race that’s going to be a single-digit race no matter what, losing independents overwhelmingly because of the candidate is devastating.” 

Some Republicans also warn against underestimating Warnock, an Atlanta pastor who ousted former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) early last year in a runoff election that helped hand Democrats their current Senate majority.  

Warnock has proven to be an avid fundraiser, pulling in roughly $8 million more in the second quarter of the year than Walker. Last month’s Quinnipiac University poll also showed his favorability rating above water, with majorities of voters giving him high marks for characteristics like honesty and leadership skills. 

Warnock’s campaign, meanwhile, has sought to hammer Walker as dishonest, with one recent ad highlighting the former football player’s past claim that he graduated near the top of his class at the University of Georgia despite leaving for a professional football career before finishing school. 

“Say what you want about Raphael Warnock, but the guy has a kind of gravitas that people pick up on,” one Georgia Republican strategist said. “I still think he’s vulnerable. I think you need to do everything you can to make him answer for Biden. But you can’t pretend that he’s a bad candidate.” 

Perhaps the biggest liability for Warnock this year is his political party. Democrats are facing an uphill battle to keep their razor-thin House and Senate majorities amid skyrocketing inflation and President Biden’s dwindling approval ratings.  

Still, there appears to be at least some Georgians willing to cross party lines to vote for Warnock.  

While most polls show Warnock leading Walker in the Senate race, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has maintained an advantage over his Democratic challenger, Stacey Abrams, in the race for the governor’s mansion. Clay, the former Georgia state senator, chalked those results up to the incumbency advantage that both Kemp and Walker have, but also said that Walker can’t bank on a so-called red wave to get him across the finish line in November. 

“There is an advantage to being an incumbent in the vast majority of elections, and Warnock is professional, he’s smooth, and comes across as sincere,” Clay said. “For Herschel Walker the question is, how does he change that?” 

Tags 2022 midterms Brian Kemp Donald Trump Donald Trump Georgia Senate race Herschel Walker Herschel Walker Joe Biden Joe Biden Raphael Warnock Raphael Warnock Trump
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