The last year in politics has been a living hell for Georgia Republicans. Comfortably ensconced as the Peach State’s dominant party since the early days of this century, the GOP managed to lose Georgia’s electoral votes for the first time since 1992, along with not one but two Senate seats and two House seats in their former suburban Atlanta stomping grounds. Worse yet, they emerged from the carnage deeply divided, with Donald Trump obsessed with vengeance against a Republican governor and secretary of state who did not facilitate his efforts to overturn Biden’s win. Could their salvation be in the familiar form of sports legend Herschel Walker? It’s now possible.
Looking ahead to the 2022 midterms, Georgia Republicans face a very likely Trump-backed primary challenge to Governor Brian Kemp, with the winner then having to confront GOP nemesis Stacey Abrams, the voter-mobilization wizard who never really stopped running after her very narrow loss to Kemp in 2018. They must also decide on a challenger to new Democratic senator Raphael Warnock, who defeated appointed Republican Kelly Loeffler in one of two January 5 runoffs. Warnock actually captured the shank of a term won by Republican Johnny Isakson (who resigned for health reasons at the end of 2019). The first big development of the 2022 cycle was the decision by former Republican senator David Perdue — who lost the other Senate seat to Jon Ossoff on January 5 — that he would not run against Warnock. He reportedly made this decision after a golf round with the 45th president, according to the New York Times.
Perdue was thought to be the one Senate candidate who might be able to preempt serious primary opposition in 2022. Now that he’s out, Republicans look fearfully ahead to the possibility of a rematch between Loeffler and the very Trumpy former congressman Doug Collins, who attacked the appointed senator relentlessly as a corrupt RINO and drove her to previously unimaginable efforts to depict herself as savagely right wing (at one point running ads boasting that she was “more conservative than Attila the Hun”). It could get even worse: Collins has been encouraged by Trump to run against Kemp, which might open the door to a Senate race by the Georgia GOP’s latest global celebrity, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. She has a lot of time on her hands and little to lose after being stripped of her committee assignments by the U.S. House for a vast record of hateful and bizarre utterances.
It’s unsurprising, then, that Georgia Republicans are longing for a deus ex machina to resolve their 2022 Senate dilemma, and some think they might find one in a certain Trump-adjacent figure who enjoys godlike status among sports-mad Georgians, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
Herschel Walker for Senate? Georgia Republicans have been buzzing with the rumor that the Georgia football legend — and close friend of former President Donald Trump — could challenge U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock next year.
We’ve heard the talk for days, mostly from the pundit class and others trying to egg on Number 10.
The 1982 Heisman Trophy winner and star of the last University of Georgia Bulldogs team to win a national championship, Walker (or simply “Herschel,” as he is universally known in the state) has been close to Donald Trump since the mogul signed him to his first professional football contract with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, which eventually led to a productive NFL career for the running back, known for an unprecedented combination of power and speed. Walker’s most prominent post-football media appearance was as a contestant on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice show in 2009. Trump aside, though, Walker has recently gotten into the habit of backing Republican candidates in Georgia, including Kemp in 2018 and Loeffler last year. If he were lured into the 2022 Senate race, Walker would presumably win Trump’s backing, and might clear the primary field as effectively as Perdue could have done.
There’s another big reason Walker could serve Republicans well in 2022: As one of the state’s most prominent Black celebrities, he might offer some cover for the Georgia GOP’s blatant and visibly racist efforts to restrict voting rights through a blitz of legislative activity aimed at reducing opportunities for early in-person and by-mail voting while beefing up the state’s voter-ID requirements. Indeed, voter suppression seems to be the one issue on which all Georgia Republicans (including Trump enemies Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger) can agree. A campaign against Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator fueled by an assault on Black voting rights won’t look that great if the candidate is a rich, white Republican like Loeffler, a savage hillbilly like Collins, or the gun-toting QAnon promoter Greene.
There is one threshold problem with the Walker for Senate idea: He currently lives in Texas. But as Newsmax, which is fanning the rumors, notes, that’s easily fixable: “[S]upporters say, given his heroic status, Walker would be accepted if he simply bought a house and moved back. As veteran Georgia public relations man Phil Kent put it, “He could move back to his hometown of Athens on ‘Herschel Walker Drive.’”
A lot of Georgia Democrats would be unhappy with having to criticize Herschel Walker, but in Georgia right now, politics is the ultimate blood sport.