In Georgia, Herschel Walker puts the GOP on a waiting pattern

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Herschel Walker speaks with the Marines March 24, 2015 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. (Lance Cpl. April Price / Public domain)

The recently ousted former senator who wants to recover her post. A football hero is considering his first candidacy. Little-known politicians are eyeing promotions. And a former president eclipsing them all in a state he lost last November.

The nomination of Republicans to the US Senate in a prominent battlefield like Georgia is a political prize of choice, but a year before GOP voters pick a candidate for the midterms of 2022, they didn’t no clear options. This leaves some power players worried about the party’s chances of defeating first-year Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock as they attempt to reclaim a majority in the Senate.

The glaring unknown as potential suitors mull their plans: whether political neophyte Herschel Walker will enter the race with the approval of his close friend Donald Trump. Walker was a beloved Heisman Trophy winner for the University of Georgia and a retired professional football star who played in the short-lived US Football League when Trump owned a team in the 1980s. Now Trump is the former president who divided Georgia’s Republicans with pledges of revenge against those he says didn’t do enough to help him reverse his defeat.

AFTER: Trump calls on former NFL player Herschel Walker to run for Senate in Georgia

Together, they may be the most popular duo among Georgia Republicans.

Walker, who joined Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent, fueled discussions over a Senate candidacy for months and discussed the race with national party leaders, including the leader of Senatorial Minority Mitch McConnell; and Florida Senator Rick Scott, leader of the GOP Senate Campaign Committee.

Trump publicly encouraged Walker to enter the primary.

Walker, who recently attended Trump’s private birthday celebration, did not say when he would announce a decision. But the mere possibility of him showing up is enough to leave other potential candidates on hold in a state where Democratic victories in 2020 have highlighted Republicans’ narrow margin for error.

The GOP bench includes former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost one to Warnock in a January special election runoff, and U.S. Representative Buddy Carter, a four-term congressman from near Savannah who never showed up statewide.

Eric Tanenblatt, a leading national Republican fundraiser and director of law firm Dentons, called the GOP indecision “unfortunate” and warned that Warnock, Georgia’s first black senator, would be a “candidate. formidable “with a leg up on fundraising and no significant primary opposition as he runs for his first full Senate term.

“I guess my hope is that if Herschel does it, he decides to do it ASAP,” Tanenblatt said. “You have people waiting to get on board, but it’s almost getting a little too late.”

RELATED: Crowds gather to watch former President Trump at a Saturday night rally in Ohio

Walker, 59, sparked further speculation about a Senate bid with a recent social media post showing the longtime Texas resident next to a car with a Georgian license plate on it. In the video, Walker said he was “ready” to “run with the big dogs.” But he has not set up any visible political operations in Georgia, and it is still not clear whether he has re-established his residence in his home state. He was not in attendance at the state’s annual Republican convention or district and county conventions earlier this spring, leaving some Republicans frustrated.

“You have to go out and meet people, and it takes time to do that“ in a large, populous state, ”said Jack Kingston, former South Georgia congressman and 2014 Senate candidate.“ Republican primary voters get angry easily if you don’t come to their events, even if you are Herschel Walker. “

This contrasts with a handful of outspoken candidates, led by longtime state agriculture commissioner Gary Black, and potential candidates like Loeffler and Carter.

Loeffler, who had been the richest member of the Senate, has traveled the state since his defeat to present his new political organization, Greater Georgia. She presents it as a conservative retort to Democrat Stacey Abrams’ group Fair Fight.

The former senator also recently met with McConnell to talk about running again. A Republican close to Loeffler described the conversation as encouraging and suggested that McConnell is intrigued by Loeffler’s ability to pay for himself. The Republican spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Loeffler’s plans.

To be sure, national Republican leaders are not publicly calling for a Walker’s candidacy. The National Republican Senate Committee, led by Scott of Florida, has no plans to take sides in an open primary, assistants say. McConnell, who has his own political operation and fundraising network, has made no such commitments.

Loeffler and Carter, meanwhile, are already relying on the potential celebrity nominee: Carter has publicly stated that he will not run if Walker does, and Loeffler’s allies say it is unlikely she’s willing to mess with him either.

Still, that doesn’t mean Republicans are ready for a coronation.

“Herschel is the ultimate wild card – high potential, but a lot of risk,” said Chip Lake, a Republican strategist in Georgia and the South.

Randy Evans, Republican of Georgia and United States Ambassador to Luxembourg under Trump, argued that Walker, who is black, could broaden the appeal of the GOP among black votes in a general election, thereby reducing the advantage Democrat who helped elect Warnock. Other Republican players say this notion is exaggerated.

In the most fluid scenario, Walker would leverage his fame and statewide business success – he owns a Georgia-based poultry supplier, among other interests – to bridge the gap between Trump’s shrill base and the more moderate midfielder that helped tip Georgia over to Democrats in 2020.

“If Hershel shows up, Donald Trump will come to Georgia as many times as Herschel gets him,” Evans predicted.

Tanenblatt replied: “It goes both ways.”

Indeed, Walker could pass a primary as Trump’s preferred choice, but fail in November in suburban Atlanta where the former president’s imprimatur is a handicap and where Republicans have lost electoral votes and two seats in the election. US Senate.

“There are mainstream Republicans and donors who are still salted at losing those Senate seats, and they blame the president,” Tanenblatt said.

Then there are the worst case scenarios some Republicans are thinking about in private: Walker could simply wither under the pressures of a nationalized campaign. He has written about his struggles with mental illness before and should probably discuss it again, all the while facing close scrutiny of policy issues he’s never had to go into in detail. He could end up either as a weak candidate or as a main enemy that leaves the GOP scrambling to find an alternative.

“All of this just captures the problem for Republicans right now in Georgia,” Lake said. “We have a lot of Republicans who love Donald Trump and everyone who supports him. And we have a faction that just wants to move on. To win we have to get these two groups to vote the same person without themselves. account for it. Can Herschel Walker or someone else do that? “

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