He’s not very polished, but Herschel Walker speaks to a crowd with a lot of conviction and drive. He takes the positions you expect a Republican to take, but finds the roots and reasons in his own life story.
He talks about growing up poor in Wrightsville, Georgia. He talks about picking peas and cotton, and thinking that baling hay was a step up; a better job. He talks about the hard work that made him a Heisman Trophy winner as he led the Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship.
He talks about running a business. He talks about his well-known mental health problems and his consequent sensitivity to the issue. He talks about his lifelong support of law enforcement and the military, and volunteer work with same, about his faith and the central role that prayer takes in his life.
He talks about the problems of an uncontrolled southern border, and the fentanyl—most of it made in China—pouring across it taking almost 100,000 American lives a year. He talks about the scourge of crime, the folly of defunding police, and his support for those in blue. He alleges a homelessness problem across the street from the church of his opponent, incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King once preached, and that maybe this country should look to fix problems like this before spending money on more migrants.
Because Walker is addressing a room of several hundred primarily Jewish Republicans at an event in suburban Atlanta organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition, he speaks of his support for Israel. He talks about having been uplifted by the Abrahamic Accords that brought peace between Israel and several Persian Gulf Arab nations, and about being appalled that this signal Trump achievement received so little praise. He butters the folks up by noting the large number of Jewish winners of the Nobel Prize, disproportionate to Jews’ very small world population.
He expresses his faith in winning the race—deemed a toss-up by Real Clear Politics—despite the enormous amount of money Warnock has poured into attack ads. It’s over $30 million already and it’s only August. And he accuses Warnock of doing it so he doesn’t have to defend the Biden administration’s poor record. Warnock has voted with Biden 96 percent of the time, Walker tells the crowd.
“He’s worse than Bernie Sanders. He’s worse than Elizabeth Warren,” Walker says. He knows whose policies Republicans love to hate.
He connects with the audience who believe in the same values he does and who turned out on a Sunday afternoon to hear him speak and to support a slate of other Republican candidates running in state House and Senate races. The others each had a few minutes after Walker’s 45 minute speech, although most came to hear Herschel Walker.
They first see a Walker film light on the politics and heavy on Walker’s athletic nature. There’s footage of him playing and sprinting in his youth, shots of him in Wrightsville, and a lot of footage of a hard-working guy doing the tireless practice and exercise making for athletic success.
Coalition president Chuck Berk, emceeing the event, starts off tossing Walker softball questions about sports. Who was the best player he ever played with? Reggie White, the Minister of Defense. Who was the best player he ever played against? Also Reggie White, the Minister of Defense. And he accompanied White, who actually was a minister, one Friday night to the mean streets of South Philadelphia, where White impressed him by preaching and ministering to people on the street.
What was his most memorable college game? Playing Florida in one of the big Florida-Georgia games that’s like a bowl game in the middle of the season. Who was better, Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson? He votes for himself.
But when they got to the issues—some through questions emailed in by audience members before the event—Walker met the toughest ones first and head-on.
Berk asks him about the domestic violence allegations in TV commercials of his ex-wife speaking on tape. Walker tells the room the commercial doesn’t show that he was sitting next to his ex-wife when the footage was taped in 2020 and that the story is one of redemption. He talked about the good relationship he and his wife have with his ex-wife and her husband.
Berk brings up the question of his mental health. Walker—who wrote a book about it almost 20 years ago—talks about having had a hard time as a child, bullied for being a fat kid with a speech impediment. He says he coped with it by applying himself to sports—rather than drugs or alcohol—but keeping many things bottled up inside. Walker talks of the initial denial he went through when advised he suffered from mental illness. He talks about prayer being a big part of his recovery.
He talks about his values. He believes in hard work and that anything is possible for those who apply themselves. He talks about turning profligate credit card spending by his son into a teachable moment about debt, earning money, and not spending money that doesn’t belong to you.
He criticizes the Democrats’ spending bills, notably their latest $750 billion one called the “Inflation Reduction Act,” for not creating revenue, lowering the debt, or lowering inflation.
He doesn’t talk much about Donald Trump, although it’s clear he’s a fan, nor allegations of election fraud or Jan. 6. He doesn’t talk about China or the war in Ukraine. He doesn’t mention gun control or abortion.
Walker is unique among Trump-endorsed Republicans this year. He doesn’t hew all that closely to the Trump candidate playbook of faith, freedom, the flag, and the Second Amendment, of less regulation and lower taxes. He doesn’t speak all that smoothly, this Middle Georgia kid with a speech impediment, but he doesn’t have to.
Because he’s Herschel Walker, and this is Georgia.