Republican candidate Herschel Walker’s campaign hit by controversies, but fans remain steadfast.
WARNING: This article contains disturbing language about alleged domestic violence.
The crowd was armed and loudly enthusiastic.
At a rally outside a gun shop in north Georgia on a sunny afternoon late last month, handguns mixed with baby carriages, footballs and “Run Herschel Run” ball caps.
The crowd of about 200 mostly older, mostly white Georgians made it clear they were all in for Republican Herschel Walker in his bid to win a seat in the U.S. Senate this Tuesday.
The reason he’d won their adulation — and their votes? A supporter, Helen Johnson, put it this way to CBC News: “Because he’s Herschel Walker.”
Indeed, it cannot be overstated how big a deal Walker is in this state.
His heroics as a homegrown football star during college and then later in the NFL came decades ago. But in Georgia, his name remains legendary. Republicans are counting on that as they aim to win control of the Senate in the coming mid-term elections, even as Walker’s campaign is plagued by various controversies that would likely disqualify candidates in most other elections.
Walker’s campaign rallies are packed with voters wearing jerseys emblazoned with his old number, 34. His staff try to dissuade autograph seekers, but Walker tends to sign anything handed his way as he works the crowd after a speech. Sharpie in hand, he scribbles on trading cards, 8x10s, even the white stripes of footballs.
Donald Trump’s looming influence in Georgia’s heated midterm elections
In the final days before the U.S. midterm elections, it’s clear that former U.S. president Donald Trump’s influence looms large. In Georgia, Trump-backed Republican candidate Herschel Walker has become the focal point in one of the midterms’ most-critical races, and not only because of his high-profile supporter.
Walker adored by fans, slammed by critics
As an ex-sports star-turned-political candidate, he is adored.
But those controversies continue to swirl and grow, and critics of Walker slam him over them daily.
He’s has acknowledged his history of violence, but insists he’s undergone treatment. Still, his ex-wife is now seen in an anti-Walker campaign ad recounting the time “he held a gun to my temple and said he was going to blow my brains out.”
While Walker says he strongly opposes most abortions, two women now label him a hypocrite for campaigning on that issue and have come forward with evidence — denied by Walker — that he pressured them into having abortions (and/or paid for them) after being intimate with him.
Last month, Walker’s son called out his father in a Twitter video seen by millions.
“Everything’s a lie,” Christian Walker said in the post. “He has four kids, four different women — wasn’t in the house raising one of them. He was out having sex with other women.”
Walker has also publicly questioned laws aimed at fighting climate change, falsely claimed to be an FBI agent (he later said he was joking), described the cost of “buying groceries” as a women’s issue, and has belittled the science of evolution.
At campaign rallies attended by CBC News, Walker attacked U.S. President Joe Biden’s record on the economy while warning of ‘Chinese fentanyl in Hallowe’en candy” and public schools that he says are “too woke.”
He also mocked transgender people in the U.S. Armed Forces.
“They want to bring pronouns into the military,” he told the crowd at that rally outside the gun shop. “My pronouns [are] sick and tired of you all talking about pronouns. I don’t even know what a pronoun is.”
The crowd laughed and applauded.
Georgia contest may determine Senate control
Liberal talk show host Bill Maher has called Walker “unfit for office” and a “f–king idiot.” But, in turn, conservative talk show host Dana Loesch said, “I don’t care if [Walker] paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.”
Indeed, depending on how things play out on election night Tuesday in a tiny handful of other states, various scenarios suggest the party that wins Georgia will win overall control of the Senate.
If Walker tips the balance of power to Republicans, it would deeply complicate Biden’s agenda for perhaps the rest of his term in office.
A number of senior Republicans have forcefully rallied alongside Walker, despite the stories and derision.
Former president Donald Trump endorsed him last year.
To be clear, Walker may well win.
Political analyst Jason Nichols, a senior lecturer at the University of Maryland, describes Walker as “not an intellectual” and “someone who is going to be easily controlled” if he wins the Georgia Senate seat.
Bishop worries about the rise of Walker because of what it signals about American democracy when, in the name of Senate control, Republicans now stand so firmly behind such a candidate “because of the thirst for power, instead of looking for independent, smart leadership.”
“I find it not only disappointing. I find it terrifying,” said Nichols.
‘Democracy is on the ballot’
Walker’s opponent, incumbent Democrat Senator Raphael Warnock, has called Walker “extreme” and ‘a scary alternative.”
“You actually have to know stuff to do this job,” Warnock told a crowd last month.
Warnock is the first Black person elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia and a pastor at the same Georgia church where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once made his name. Warnock has spent years pushing to expand health-care coverage in Georgia, and supports greater access to abortions and same-sex marriage.
Last month, underlining the stakes in play with this election, former president Barack Obama rallied in support of Warnock.
“Democracy is on the ballot,” said Obama. He warned the crowd that if Republicans win power, they would further toughen restrictions on abortions.
“Who cares about you, who sees you, who believes in you?” said Obama. “That’s the choice in this election.”
But Warnock, too, is facing controversy, albeit on a significantly smaller scale than Walker.
An anti-Warnock ad shows police body-cam video from 2020 of Warnock’s ex-wife in tears, telling police he had run over her foot with his car during an argument. Police found no evidence of any injury and did not lay charges.
At a rally in Augusta last week, Warnock told supporters his opponent is trying to “scandalize my name.” Warnock also urged backers to now “get out and vote — and pray”.
Truck driver Geraldine Jordon was one of the roughly 200 mostly African Americans taking it in.
“I came here to support someone who I believe will work for me and my household,” she told CBC News. “Not [someone who] just wants to seek to control it, to be able to control a nation of people.”
But in the face of all the criticism against Walker, his backers remain steadfast.
“Anybody can be forgiven, which he has been,” Walker supporter Sylvia Joyce told CBC News. “So don’t go and look for trash from long ago.”
A fellow Walker fan, Henry Desetta, said: “He’s a good Christian person.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Hunter is a correspondent for CBC News in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, he was a political correspondent for The National in Ottawa. In his more than two decades with the CBC, he has reported from across Canada and more than a dozen countries, including Haiti, Japan and Afghanistan.
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