Republicans worry about Georgia Senate race with Herschel Walker’s liabilities on display

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Those liabilities were on display during an appearance he made last week at a local GOP picnic in Hall County, northeast of Atlanta, when Walker spoke confusingly about climate change in a widely distributed video.

“Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air. So when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then — now we got we to clean that back up,” Walker said.

Multiple Georgia Republicans told CNN they worry about Walker’s string of verbal gaffes and unfocused strategy. Some said they fear he is ill-equipped to go up against Sen. Raphael Warnock, his well-funded and disciplined Democratic opponent in one of the marquee races of the 2022 midterms.

Warnock, who was elected to the Senate in the January 2021 runoff months after Joe Biden narrowly won Georgia, remains one of the more popular politicians in the deeply divided state. A recent Quinnipiac University poll even showed Warnock leading Walker among registered voters by 10 points, 54% to 44% — despite the fact that the same poll found Biden’s approval in Georgia at a dismal 33%.

Republicans in the state say they believe the race is much closer but that Walker likely still trails by single digits.

“I think he could very well be the only person on the [GOP] ticket who loses,” said one Republican operative in Georgia. “Any time he speaks publicly, it not only does not inspire confidence, it inspires a crisis of confidence.”

It’s been a topsy-turvy summer for Walker since he easily won the May 24 GOP primary. The campaign has had to deal with the public relations fallout of several recent revelations about Walker, including reports that the former football star had multiple children by women he was not married to and who had been previously unknown to the public. And a June report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution detailed how Walker’s claims over the years to have worked in or with law enforcement don’t stand up to scrutiny.

It’s part of the reason why among Walker’s new hires — many of whom were announced this week by the campaign — are several veteran GOP communications strategists from the DC area, including Brett O’Donnell and Gail Gitcho. In addition, seasoned Georgia Republican strategist Chip Lake has joined the Walker campaign as an adviser linking back up with campaign manager Scott Paradise, who worked with Lake on Doug Collins’ unsuccessful Senate run in 2020.

Walker’s team says the staff announcements — which also include a new communications director, a new finance director and a new political director — don’t represent a shakeup as much as an expansion for after a relatively uncompetitive primary.

“This is not atypical, to have a bunch of people come in at this time on a campaign,” Gitcho told CNN.

But other Republicans say the problem won’t be solved with heavy hitters from the GOP consulting world.

“The campaign lacks the ability to strategically plan because the candidate is so erratic,” said Erick Erickson, a Georgia-based conservative radio talk-show host. “I just find it notable that outside of the press secretary’s Twitter account, the campaign is mostly invisible.”

Walker’s appearances have been limited chiefly to private events and occasional friendly media interviews. And Republican operatives are scratching their heads at the campaign’s messaging.

In his gauzy first post-primary TV ad, for instance, Walker touts his views on supporting police and the military and his desire to “bring people together.” A second GOP operative in Georgia said the Walker ad is a wasted opportunity to tie Warnock to President Joe Biden and the Democratic majority in Washington.

Warnock, on the other hand, has zeroed in on questions of Walker’s qualifications for the Senate. In the Democrat’s recent series of TV ads, a narrator claims Walker is in a fight “versus the truth.” The latest ad, citing news reports, features video clips of Walker claiming to have graduated in the top tier of his class at the University of Georgia — despite not actually graduating from the school.

“Is Herschel Walker really ready to represent Georgia?” the narrator concludes.

Republicans in Georgia say the assault from Warnock’s campaign will only get tougher in the months to come.

“I still don’t think that Warnock’s team has let loose the hounds of war to attack Herschel,” said the second GOP operative, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “That’s not gonna be a pretty picture. Those ads are pretty easy to write.”

There have been bright spots for the GOP nominee, too. Walker announced on Wednesday his best fundraising quarter yet — bringing in $6.2 million between April and June between his campaign and supporting committees, with $7 million cash on hand.

But the Republican’s total pales in comparison to the haul by his Democratic opponent, who reported raising his own record $17.2 million in the same period and has $22.2 million cash on hand.

Yet even with the uneasiness about Walker’s chances, some Republicans say they still believe the conditions going against Democrats nationally will outweigh their candidate’s shortcomings. The Walker campaign, they say, is relying on that to happen.

“They assume the wave will take Walker across the finish line and, frankly, I think they’re right,” said Erickson.

July 15, 2022 at 04:21AM

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