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In Georgia, Could a Football Win Help Walker Win as Well?


Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign has had several tailwinds working for it this 12 months: President Biden’s unpopularity and regular inflation top the list.

And the Georgia Bulldogs aren’t hurting his cause, either. Even serious political analysts acknowledge that the Bulldogs’ strong season — they’re undefeated within the powerful S.E.C. up to now — could also be helping Mr. Walker in his Senate race against Senator Raphael Warnock, by lifting spirits and stirring up nostalgia just in time for probably the most famous Bulldog ever to ask for votes.

The connection was undeniable on Saturday, when Mr. Walker was the largest star not in uniform on the day of the largest college football game of the 12 months, where Georgia beat the University of Tennessee, 27-13.

Tammy Mitchell remembers being about 10 years old when she saw Mr. Walker, then a robust young running back, lead the University of Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship in 1981.

On Saturday, she had each football and politics on her mind as she attended a rally for greater than 100 Georgia Republicans and Walker supporters, decked out in red and black Bulldogs paraphernalia, some with their faces painted, as they held signs supporting Mr. Walker’s candidacy for the Senate.

“It’s very surreal,” she said. “I never thought as slightly girl that years later this might be happening or he would even be running for Senate.” Ms. Mitchell stood next to her husband in a line to satisfy and take photos with Mr. Walker. She was counting on a win for his team and for Republicans on Tuesday, saying the previous could help the latter.

“I feel it’s an indication,” she said.

People see signs where they need to, but on this Saturday political vapors in addition to football emanated from Athens. And if it was a little bit of a stretch to say that control of the Senate and certainly one of the largest prizes within the midterms could come all the way down to whether Mr. Walker’s team won again, some saw a convergence of sorts within the football game and the statistically tied race between Mr. Walker and Mr. Warnock.

Neil Malhotra, a professor of political economy at Stanford University, who has studied the ties between sports and politics, didn’t think the final result of Saturday’s football game would mean more to voters than inflation and crime.

The Aftermath of the 2022 Midterm Elections

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A moment of reflection. Within the aftermath of the midterms, Democrats and Republicans face key questions concerning the way forward for their parties. With the House and Senate now decided, here’s where things stand:

A recent era for House Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the primary woman to serve within the post and the face of House Democrats for twenty years, is not going to pursue a leadership post in the following Congress. A trio of recent leaders is poised to take over their caucus’s top ranks.

Divided government. What does a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-run Senate mean for the following two years? Most probably a return to the gridlock and brinkmanship which have defined a divided federal government lately.

But, he said, “emotional stuff” may very well be meaningful in such a decent race.

“His whole candidacy appears to be specifically based on the incontrovertible fact that he’s a football star,” he said.

Mr. Walker, whose campaign has needed to navigate a slew of stumbles that had nothing to do with football, didn’t attend Saturday’s football game, in response to his campaign aides. But he has made football — and his own legacy in the game — a big a part of his message on the stump. From his earliest events, many attendees have been die-hard conservatives or University of Georgia fans who remember when he led the team to victory. His stump speeches are a mix of loose political talking points and sports analogies.

And at his Saturday rally, sporting a University of Georgia polo, Mr. Walker opened his stump speech with a nod to his alma mater before diving right into a diatribe against Mr. Warnock — and making a prediction of his own.

“Identical to the Dawgs are going to win today, that’s what’s going to occur on Tuesday,” Mr. Walker said to cheers.

The gang at Saturday’s rally was thinner than at Mr. Walker’s prior events. Lower than a half-mile away, ESPN’s College GameDay program hosted a live broadcast that attracted a whole lot of fans.

David Hancock, a 70-year-old Georgia fan, said he was in Athens for 2 reasons: to “see the Dawgs hopefully beat Tennessee and to see Herschel Walker’s speech.”

Mr. Hancock said he planned to support all the Republican ticket on Tuesday. He brushed off concerns that Mr. Walker’s lack of political experience may very well be detrimental to him if he won. As an alternative, he pointed to words from an commercial that Vince Dooley, the previous University of Georgia football coach, cut for Mr. Walker before he died in late October, underlining his former player’s approach to athletics.

“He’s driven,” Mr. Hancock said. “If he falls down, he gets up and he goes forward. That’s what he’s done on this life.”

Mr. Warnock made the perfect of things. In a single ad for Mr. Warnock released in the course of the game, three Georgia graduates conveyed their reverence for Mr. Walker’s accomplishments as a university football star, but said that was where it stopped. One was wearing a jersey with Mr. Walker’s No. 34, and one other displayed a football autographed by him.

“I’ve all the time thought Herschel Walker looked perfect up there,” said a person identified within the ad as Clay Bryant, a 1967 Georgia graduate, pointing to newspaper clippings of Mr. Walker on a wall in his home.

“I feel he looks good here,” one other graduate said, gesturing to her jersey.

“I feel he looks great there,” the third one said, sitting next to the football and a duplicate of Sports Illustrated with Mr. Walker on the duvet.

“But Herschel Walker within the U.S. Senate?” the three asked critically in unison.

Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.

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