“They love him in Georgia, I’ll tell you,” Trump said last week in a radio interview.
But the increasing likelihood of a Walker candidacy has some Georgia conservatives scratching their heads.
Then-President Donald Trump and Herschel Walker walk as they watch young participants during the White House Sports and Fitness Day on the South Lawn on May 30, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images)
“He will need to show that he is a conservative,” former Rep. Doug Collins, a Trump ally, said late last week on his radio program.
As Republicans aim to win back the Senate majority they lost in January when the Democrats narrowly swept Georgia’s twin Senate runoff elections, they’re playing plenty of defense, defending 20 of the 34 seats up for grabs, including five open seats – with two of them in the crucial battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
But they also see opportunities to flip blue seats red in four states, including Georgia. And they view Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia as one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for reelection in 2022. Warnock defeated appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler by a razor-thin margin on Jan. 5, to serve the final two years of the term of former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned in 2019 due to health reasons.
Many in the GOP are waiting for signals from Walker. The former star professional football player and college gridiron legend in the Peach State – he won a Heisman Trophy and helped steer the University of Georgia to a college football national championship – has been encouraged by Trump to run for the Senate.
“Wouldn’t it be great if the legendary Herschel Walker ran for the United States Senate in Georgia?” Trump wrote in a statement in March. “He would be unstoppable, just like he was when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, and in the NFL. He is also a GREAT person. Run, Herschel, Run!”
And last week the former president said in an interview on “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show” that Walker “told me he’s going to (run) and I think he will.”
“I had dinner with him a week ago,” Trump said of Walker, who’s relationship with the former president goes back to his days playing for the Trump-owned New Jersey Generals USFL football team in the 1980s. “He’s a great guy. He’s a patriot. He’s a very loyal person.”
Walker teased in a tweet last month that he’s got “Georgia on my mind” and said in an accompanying video that he’s “getting ready.”
And Fox News has confirmed that Walker has begun to build the beginnings of a campaign, reaching out to political advisers and aides.
Thanks to his strong name recognition in Georgia and the backing of Trump, Walker would be seen as the front-runner for the GOP Senate nomination.
But Walker hasn’t lived in Georgia for decades, so he’d have to establish residency in the state. And Walker has never run for public office before, meaning where he stands on key issues is up for debate.
“I have never heard Herschel Walker’s position on pro-life. I haven’t,” said Collins, who came in third behind Warnock and Loeffler in a large field of candidates in November’s special election and who briefly mulled a 2022 run before ruling it out.
“I’ve never heard his position on gun control. I’ve never heard his position on a lot of these issues that are conservative issues,” Collins noted.
Some Georgia Republicans are concerned about a possible political train wreck if Walker declares his candidacy.
A Republican strategist in Georgia who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely said “we don’t know what a Herschel Walker candidacy looks like. What type of a candidate is he going to be? How is he going to handle being thrown into the fire? Is he going to be quick on his feet?”
And pointing to Walker’s well-publicized battle with mental illness, the strategist said, “He either gets into race and he deals with those issues well and grows, or he gets into the race and he struggles with explaining some of the issues that were in his book and he decides this isn’t for him. That’s why Republicans in Georgia want Herschel Walker to make up his mind a month or two ago.”
Four-term Rep. Buddy Carter is one of the Republican politicians waiting on Walker. Carter has said he’ll launch a Senate campaign if Walker decides not to run.
Loeffler may also run again, telling Fox News two weeks ago that “I have not ruled anything out.”
Three Georgia Republicans have already jumped into the race. The most prominent is state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who declared his candidacy earlier this month. And two military veterans who are not well-known, Kelvin King and Latham Saddler, launched Republican Senate campaigns earlier this year.
Former Sen. David Perdue, who narrowly lost to now Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s other runoff election in January, has passed on launching a 2022 bid to return to the Senate.
Georgia was long a reliably red state. But President Biden narrowly edged Trump there in November, becoming the first Democrat to win the state in a presidential election in more than a quarter century. Two months later, the Democrats swept the twin Senate runoff contests.