Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker makes his case to voters in Emerson. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
EMERSON, Ga. – A bus with Herschel Walker’s face on it pulled into an Emerson sports complex Wednesday, and out of it stepped Herschel Walker himself, making the first stop in a tour promoting his candidacy for the United States Senate.
Walker, a University of Georgia football legend turned mixed martial arts fighter and rightwing favorite, said Georgians should send him to Washington instead of Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock because Walker will help stem the tide of “wokeness” he said is threatening the nation’s schools and military bases.
“Right now, they’re bringing wokeness in our military,” he said. “You know, I once said the reason we’re the greatest country in the world is we’ve got the greatest military in the world. And the way we got to do this is we got to support them. Because I can promise you right now, Iran, Russia and China are not worried about pronouns. They’re not worried about pronouns. A grenade is not worried about how you identify. A bullet is not worried about the color of your skin. We’ve got to remove wokeness from our military.”
Walker told the crowd he will have the strength to restore America to its traditional values.
“I’m running because I’m sick and tired of this,” he said. “When my father told me no, he meant no. And then when I got old enough, he said ‘if you don’t like the rules underneath my roof, it’s time for you to leave my house.’ And it’s almost at a point that we say we are good people, and if you don’t like the rules under our roof, you can go somewhere else. We’re not going to hold you. But you’ve got to have people that are going to be strong enough to say it. It seems like everybody today is afraid to speak the truth.”
Polls show Walker and Warnock in essentially a dead heat with the Nov. 8 election just two months away.
The Real Clear Politics polling average puts Walker one point behind Warnock, a worse performance than other statewide Republican candidates, notably Gov. Brian Kemp, who is polling 4.8 points ahead of Democrat Stacey Abrams.
Pundits point to several factors to explain Walker’s deficit. While Walker’s athleticism made him a household name in the state, Kemp is a known political quantity, and Walker’s campaign has been plagued by gaffes and questions about his past.
An ex-wife has said Walker was abusive and threatened to kill her. Reporters revealed that he fathered three children he had not previously talked about in public, and statements he has made about working in law enforcement and as an entrepreneur have been found to be exaggerated or false.
Republican State Sen. Bruce Thompson of White, who is running for state labor commissioner, dismissed those details.
“Here’s the thing I’ll tell you about Herschel,” he told the Emerson crowd. “It’s a bunch of baloney when you say, ‘oh, he’s got defuncted (businesses) and he doesn’t have a business.’ I’ve been to some of these places. He’s employing people.”
Questions about the candidates’ debate schedule continue to hound Walker. Months ago, Warnock accepted debate invitations from three news outlets in Atlanta, Savannah and Macon, but Walker did not. Eventually, Walker said he would agree to appear at a separate debate hosted by WSAV in Savannah.
That debate stipulated that discussion topics would be provided beforehand, but not specific questions, a sticking point for Warnock.
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On Wednesday, Warnock agreed to appear at the WSAV debate, provided that Walker agree that neither candidate would be provided with topics prior to the debate and that he would appear at at least one of the venues Warnock originally agreed to.
“It’s time for Herschel Walker to stop playing games,” said Warnock for Georgia campaign manager Quentin Fulks in a statement. “The job of a U.S. Senator isn’t one where you know the topics ahead of time or get a cheat sheet, and Herschel Walker shouldn’t need one to find the courage to walk on a debate stage. Rev. Warnock is hopeful that Herschel Walker will finally stop dodging debates and show voters if he’s really ready to represent Georgia.”
Walker did not mention the debates during his speech, nor did he take questions from the press, but he seemed to indicate in a tweet that he’s not ready to make a deal.
“I don’t need debate topics. We all know @ReverendWarnock stands with @JoeBiden on everything so no surprises there. I’ve accepted the Savannah debate without conditions. He should too. But he’s playing games. Let’s do this debate for the people. Ball is in his court. #gasen”
When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel cited “candidate quality” while downplaying Republicans’ odds of gaining control of the Senate, many assumed Walker was one of the candidates on his mind.
Walker ran away with 68% of the vote in a six-person primary this May, but some Republicans worry about his ability to appeal to moderate swing voters or those who preferred a more traditional candidate.
Thompson sought to allay those concerns.
“Listen, there are some of you, I know, who say, ‘listen, this person’ – maybe me – ‘was not my first choice.’ We can accept that,” he said. “Brian might not – I’m sorry – our governor may not have been your first choice. Or Herschel might not have been your first choice. Or I might not have, but by God, we got a slate, and we better get behind each and every one, or you’ve just chosen a Democrat, and I cannot imagine any one of you out here wants a Democrat in any of these seats.”
Hinting toward election conspiracy theories, Thompson told the crowd that if conservatives stay home on Election Day, they could be in for a repeat of 2020, when Warnock and Sen. Ossoff squeaked into office in a runoff victory that Republicans discouraged by Donald Trump’s loss likely contributed to.
“We had an election in 2020, and we can argue what happened, but I can tell you what did happen was we had a couple of 100,000 people that didn’t turn out to vote in a runoff,” he said. “Why that happened, we’re not here to debate, it just happened. And we wind up with two Democratic liberal socialists that are representing our state.”
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