Name recognition from his football stardom at the University of Georgia and an endorsement from former President Donald Trump proved more impactful than a controversial past as Herschel Walker decisively won the Georgia Republican U.S. Senate primary on May 24.
Walker received 68.2 percent of the vote, with 95 percent of the votes counted by May 25.
Walker will face Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock in the general election in November. Warnock beat beauty industry professional Tamara Johnson-Shealey.
With Walker in the backfield in the 1980 season, the University of Georgia football team captured a national title. He was named the Heisman Trophy winner in 1982.
Walker’s status as a Georgia sports legend and Trump’s endorsement made him the Republican Party favorite right after he entered the race in August 2021.
An early supporter of Trump’s first presidential run, Walker has long been a Trump ally. Trump appointed Walker to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition in 2018, but Walker was removed from the post by President Joe Biden in March, along with Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Walker’s Republican primary opponents hoped to at least force him into a June runoff. They attacked his character, focusing on previous allegations of domestic abuse and threatening behavior directed at former friends and business partners.
At a rally earlier this year, Georgia State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, one of Walker’s opponents in the primary, said Walker wouldn’t defeat Warnock in the general election.
“Folks, he can’t win in November. The baggage is too heavy. It’ll never happen,” Black said. “The Democrats will pour $140 million on top of domestic violence and altercations with the police, make no mistake.”
Last week, Business Insider reported that Walker was five months late in filing candidate financial documents and didn’t disclose more than $3 million in earnings in his previous disclosure form.
Walker’s original candidate report was filed in December 2021 and showed that he and his wife earned $927,886 from late 2020 to the end of 2021 through various corporations.
The amended candidate report included an additional $3.2 million from “H. Walker Enterprises.” The overall income in the disclosure form was changed to $4.1 million, a figure four times higher than the original report, according to Business Insider.
Walker bypassed traditional debates, a move that was criticized by his opponents.
Josh Clark, who served two terms in the Georgia House and was one of the six Georgia Republican Senate candidates, challenged Walker to a one-on-one debate by offering $1 million. Clark said he would donate the money to a charity of Walker’s choice if he would appear at the debate.
Walker said that given his sizable lead in the polls, he saw no need to debate his Republican challengers.
Clark believes that Walker’s resume doesn’t qualify him to serve as a senator.
“He hasn’t voted in 20 years and he just moved back to the state of Georgia,” Clark told Atlanta’s Fox 5. “And we’re glad to have him back, but just because he’s a football star, just because he’s endorsed by McConnell, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have tons of special interest money flowing into the state of Georgia, doesn’t mean that you automatically, you know, get elected without showing up for the job interview.”
Latham Saddler, a former Trump administration official and a Navy veteran who was among the six Republican Senate candidates, also questioned Walker’s unwillingness to take the debate stage.
Walker touts Trump’s “America First” platform and has said he wants to increase domestic production of oil and gas, enhance military spending, and lower taxes.
Walker has been open about his bouts of mental health challenges. He wants to offer mental health training to law enforcement officers and expand the number of mental health counselors in schools.
In April, Walker told Georgia radio station WDUN-AM that his opponents were jealous.
“Because right now Herschel’s going to win that seat,” Walker said. “They can’t win it, so they’re going to the old politics, where people are tired of that. They want what people are going to do for their state of Georgia, and they can’t do anything but complain.”
Walker has said that he will debate Warnock. In the April interview with WDUN, he said he’s committed to “doing whatever it takes to win, so Rev. Warnock better get ready, because I’m getting ready.”
In the most recent Real Clear Politics average poll from April 27, Walker led Warnock by a half point.