Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign in Georgia has been mired by scandal over just what number of secret children he has fathered, allegations of domestic violence and multiple lies about his credentials. His own campaign reportedly described him as a “pathological liar,” however the race between the previous NFL star and Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock isn’t over yet — and Walker could win all of it.
Walker’s candidacy must have been an extended shot. After criticizing absent Black fathers, a racist trope, it was revealed that he has three secret children. He has repeatedly fumbled when discussing major policy issues, including climate change.
“Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to drift over to China’s bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to maneuver,” Walker said earlier this month while discussing the Green Recent Deal. “So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we got we to wash that back up.”
But poll numbers show that this race isn’t over yet.
An AARP Georgia poll from this month saw the 2 candidates in an in depth race, with Warnock leading Walker 50% to 47%; a Data for Progress poll, also from this month, had Walker leading 49% to 47%. And although a June Quinnipiac College poll showed Walker down by double digits, he was still doing well with the normal Republican base: He led Warnock 52% to 45% amongst men, 62% to 35% with white voters, and 52% to 45% with those 65 or older.
A part of the appeal is his status as a football hero.
Walker played on the University of Georgia team that won the national championship in 1980, a feat the university didn’t achieve again until 2021. Every time Walker would make an appearance on the university’s football stadium, he’d receive a standing ovation. That championship is what many middle-aged Georgians remember — and love — about him.
“University of Georgia football may be very dominating within the state,” Trey Hood, a political science professor at University of Georgia, told HuffPost. “I don’t wish to denigrate religion, but it surely’s really a quasi-religion down here.”
“His popularity is basically incredible,” he added.
Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and a lady take a selfie during former President Donald Trump’s “Save America” rally in Commerce, Georgia, on March, 26. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Republican political strategists agree that Walker’s star power is a serious plus.
“Democrats are going to have a tough time in attempting to demonize Herschel Walker like they did Kelly Loeffler,” David Johnson, a strategist in Georgia, said in May, referring to a governor-appointed senator who did not win her campaign last yr. “And the explanation is in so many individuals’s minds in Georgia, he’s the good UGA strong. You’re not going to find a way to tarnish that.”
And after all, in a deeply polarized country, simply having the fitting letter next to your name will garner a good amount of votes — especially going into the midterms, which historically work out in favor of the party that isn’t answerable for the White House. Georgia is a historically red state that went blue in 2020, but President Joe Biden’s approval rating within the state is hovering around 30% now.
“There are X number of individuals where it doesn’t matter, they’re just going to tug the R lever,” Hood said.
In June, voters at a campaign event brushed off news coverage of Walker’s many scandals. “He’s a person. He’s doing right by his family. He’s doing right by the community,” Ronel Saintvil, a Black Republican voter, told The Recent York Times. “To me, for any person simply to bad mouth him like this, I don’t consider it’s right. They’re not specializing in the problems at hand that affect the people in Georgia. And I feel that’s what’s more vital.”
Walker also earned some Republican bona fides by defending President Donald Trump through the 2020 Republican National Convention and claiming he was not racist.
“It hurt my soul to listen to the terrible names that folks call Donald,” Walker said in a speech. “I take that as a private insult, that folks would think I’ve had a 37-year friendship with a racist.”
“Growing up within the Deep South, I’ve seen racism up close. I do know what it’s. And it isn’t Donald Trump,” he said.
After Trump lost the election, he propagated a lie that the election had been rigged, which culminated in an attack on the U.S. Capitol. Many Republicans showed their loyalty to the previous president by embracing his lies and conspiracy theories, and Walker was no exception.
Within the weeks following the election, Walker called for a re-vote in a number of the states won by Biden, made baseless claims about massive voter fraud, and promoted conspiracy theories about voting machines.
In other words, he was the right Republican.
Walker’s scandals — incoherent statements, blatant hypocrisy, allegations of abuse — all seem eerily familiar. Trump’s 2016 victory and his long-lasting influence within the GOP is partially because of the undeniable fact that voters embraced his sort of politics. His status as a reality TV celebrity didn’t hurt either.
So while Walker’s flaws are seen as a liability by Democrats, they may additionally be what sends him to Congress.