Herschel Walker’s confounding campaign hits a dead end. What’s next for the GOP football star?

 (Reuters/The Independent)
(Reuters/The Independent)

Herschel Walker entered the Georgia Senate race against Senator Raphael Warnock with a stature that few college athletes enjoyed, especially in the Peach State. In 1980, he led the University of Georgia to a national championship, running 1,616 yards, a record for a freshman.

In 1982, he won the Heisman Trophy before he went on to play for the New Jersey Generals, a team in the short-lived United States Football League owned by New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Afterward, he’d have a long run in the NFL playing for the Dallas Cowboys before the team traded him to the Minnesota Vikings for five players and six future draft picks.

In the same way, Mr Walker ends his time running for Senate as a shadow of the UGA football legend that most Georgians loved. His propensity for nonsensical remarks have become the subject of Saturday Night Live sketches and his race cautionary tale that the political arena differs vastly from Sanford Stadium in Athens. The Associated Press projected that Mr Warnock defeated Mr Walker around 10.30pm ET on Tuesday.

The fact Mr Walker even made it to a runoff is a testament to how underwhelming of a candidate he is. Georgia law stipulates that a candidate must win a majority of the vote and if a candidate doesn’t win a majority in November, they go into a runoff.

But Governor Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans whom Mr Trump loathed for not overturning the 2020 election results, won re-election in November with ease. Mr Kemp easily did away with liberal hero Stacey Abrams with 53.4 per cent of the vote, giving a boost to Mr Walker – though not quite enough.

Mr Walker for his part, underperformed Mr Kemp by 4.9 points and now has lost the runoff race. That alone makes it unlikely that he will have much of a future in GOP politics.

“Sometimes when the party has run a candidate that they know is going to lose to set them up to win a cycle or two later, or who lost but they saw the numbers and saw how well they performed and how responsive the voters were, even though they lost they will talk to them about getting back in the game,” Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman, told The Independent. “None of that is going to happen here.”

Mr Trump’s unpopularity among Georgia Republicans after he cost them two Senate seats in the 2021 runoff races meant he often had to rely on other surrogates such as National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott of Florida, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Herschel Walker (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Herschel Walker (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

But on Monday before the election, Mr Kennedy, who had spent the weekend campaigning for Mr Walker, could only defend Mr Walker by saying that the polling was off.

“I don't believe any polls right now. I don't think the American people can be polled. And that fact has been striking to me the last five or six years,” he told The Independent.

Mr Kennedy’s words come as poll after poll showed Mr Warnock in a comfortable position. Even the conservative Trafalgar Group, which many ridiculed for conducting surveys that painted a rosier portrait for Republicans, showed Mr Warnock with a lead.

Mr Walker could perhaps parlay his recent attention to make a go at sportcasting or conservative media But it appears his election prospects are behind him.

“You’ve hitched the authority and the reputation of the party to a candidate who has become an embarrassment, and a laughingstock — but worse, worse than that, someone who is antithetical to the very values that you presumably still believe in and espouse,” Mr Steele said. “So there is no, ‘gee, Herschel, let’s meet at the Capitol Hill Club next week to talk about the next campaign.’”

Mr Walker’s checkered past, including allegations he abused not only his ex-wife but other partners, would always likely be bound to come out once he announced his Senate run. In the months before he announced, the Associated Press published a story revealing how his ex-wife Cindy Grossman accused him of being “physically abusive” during divorce proceedings.

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“This is about as comprehensive a takedown as I’ve ever read,” Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, tweeted about the story. “My lord.”

Stories continued to abound, most notably claims that he hid the fact he had multiple children alongside his son Christian, as well as stories that claimed he graduated from college when he didn’t.

But perhaps the most damning story came when The Daily Beast reported in October that he paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion, despite the fact he said on the campaign trail that he opposed abortion without exceptions. Mr Walker vehemently denied the report, though it prompted another woman to allege he accompanied her to have an abortion, which Mr Walker also denied.

At the same time, Mr Walker became known for rambling or nonsensical comments, such as when he talked about the United States receiving China’s “bad air” while the United States sent China its “good air.” Similarly, he repeatedly told an anecdote about a bull who had impregnated three cows and tried to climb over a fence where he saw other cows who turned out to be bulls.

During a debate against Mr Warnock, Mr Walker pulled out a prop sheriff’s badge and argued it was the real thinng. He pledged to protect “martians” and once embarassingly mispronounced “election”.

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All of this allowed Mr Warnock to mercilessly ridicule Mr Walker. One Warnock ad featured many people expressing disgust while watching Mr Warnock’s remarks.

Mr Steele said that Mr Walker’s reputation is now in tatters.

“All I can say is he didn’t do himself any good for a number of reasons on a number of levels.”

Brendan Buck, a former top adviser to former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, told The Independent that Mr Walker’s career is pretty much done.

“If [he] loses, Georgia Republicans will be happy to move on from this embarrassing experiment,” he said in a direct message. “Herschel will continue to be beloved in the state for his playing days, and people will still want to take a picture with the guy, but his days on a ballot will be over.”