“They [the Warnock campaign] signal what they believe to be their path to victory. They are telegraphing their strategy: trying to bring Herschel Walker into unforeseen times when he has to act on his feet,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican consultant in Georgia. “I think what stands out for me is the timing and the telegraphy of the strategy of what they think are their strengths and what they think is Herschel Walker’s weakness.”
Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner accustomed to the light-hearted fame of a celebrity athlete, has never run for public office before. But his personal and professional story has been the subject of unflattering media coverage, leading to sharp Democratic criticism and private concerns among Republicans about his ability to stand up to scrutiny in the crucible of one of the races. the most competitive in the country.
During the primary, Walker sat down for interviews with conservative news outlets and sports podcasters. But the political reporters who punctuated his campaign events — there were more than 100 statewide — rarely had a chance to interview him.
When Walker answered spontaneous questions, he tended to stumble.
In January, when asked how he would have voted on the bipartisan infrastructure bill – a standard question for a Senate candidate – he said the question was ‘totally unfair’ because he did not know the facts Bill. At a religious event in March, Walker questioned evolution, asking if humans evolved from apes, so “why are there still apes?” Think about it.”
None of this, however, seemed as awkward as his post-election victory lap. The primary took place on the same day as the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, and after his victory speech, Walker was asked if he supported new gun laws in the wake of the tragedy. “What I like to do is see it and everything and everything”, he told CNN.
The next day, he sat down for a cable press stunt with Fox News that prompted Warnock’s calls for the debate. Walker again stumbled over his own words when asked about his political views on gun restrictions.
“Well, you know, that’s always been a problem, because like I said earlier, they want to score political points… People see it’s a person wielding that gun, you know, Cain killed Abel,” Walker said. “And that’s the problem we have. And I said, what we need to do is look at how we can stop these things.
“You talk about doing misinformation,” he continued, “how about having a department that can watch young men watching women, watching their social media? What about to do this, to look at things like this, and we can stop it that way?”
His winding responses breathed new life into the criticism he faced from his main Republican opponents, who accused him of hiding from them and being afraid to debate. As the undisputed leader of this contest, Walker refused to attend the proceedings, dismissing his opponents for not working hard enough and trailing in the polls.
During a debate, attended by his five Republican rivals, one of his enemies called him out for avoiding the debate.
“I think a simple question for Herschel Walker is, what do you think the United States Senate is doing?” said former Navy SEAL officer Latham Saddler. “It is the deliberative organ of Congress. That’s what you do as a United States senator, you stand up and debate ideas…. And Herschel Walker can’t come up here.
Democrats are eager to see Walker on stage with Warnock, a polished minister and speaker with two debates under his belt following his successful 2020 campaign against GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler.
“Every report and every scandal that emerges about Herschel Walker reinforces why he absolutely has no place in the United States Senate. And for voters, the conclusion will be really simple. Walker is not who he claims to be. He’s not made for the job. And he shouldn’t represent Georgians in the Senate. Plain and simple,” said Dan Gottlieb, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “So in that regard, we believe that this type is not suitable for Georgia, [and] we would like to have this discussion.
Walker’s weaknesses as a candidate are no secret. And as the first participant in a marquee race that could decide control of the Senate, he got a crash course in campaigning, politics and government from top party leaders.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who spoke with Walker for three hours at his campaign headquarterstold POLITICO they talk about “everything from the candidate to the senator to the Warnock debate and how to handle debates.”
Gingrich, now a Fox News commentator, said Walker will immediately become a national figure in the Republican Party and help the GOP attract black voters. He added that the GOP needs “aggressive competitors who like to win” and Walker personifies that.
“I think [people] are going to be surprised at how calmly confident he is and how impossible it is for Warnock or anyone else to bully him,” Gingrich said.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) flew to Mar-A-Lago talk shop with Walker. Walker also met with Republican Senators Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (SC) and had regular conversations with Trump.
Additionally, Walker has a permanent weekly check-in with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“I mean I have more experience than him in this stuff and it’s not that different from the other campaigns we have. [helped]McConnell said in an interview with POLITICO. “He’s a quick study and very good at bridging the divides there that have been on full display over the last couple of years, which I think is really important for the general.”
Walker has previously said on the campaign trail that he plans to debate Warnock in the fall. His campaign reiterated that position after the primary, but declined to respond to Warnock’s three-debate proposal.
“Herschel very much looks forward to discussing Raphael Warnock and his support for Joe Biden’s disastrous policies this fall,” Walker spokesperson Mallory Blount said in a written statement.
Early debates on the debates already provide insight into each campaign’s approach to the general election and a key hurdle Walker must overcome if he is to oust Warnock.
“He’s not speaking in nice syntax, by any means,” said Robinson, the GOP consultant. “But, you know, I think his constituents will say quite often what they said about Trump, ‘Well, I know what he was trying to say.'”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.