Walker taking no sides in Georgia’s GOP contest for governor | New Policies
By JEFF AMY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Herschel Walker has a message for Republicans vying for their party’s gubernatorial nomination in Georgia: Don’t count on my help.
A footballing legend in a sports-crazed state whose Senate campaign is backed by former President Donald Trump, Walker is far ahead in Georgia’s May primaries. That makes his support attractive to incumbent Governor Brian Kemp and challenger David Perdue, who are in a deadly primary campaign.
For now, Walker refuses to get involved and increasingly expresses his exasperation with the negative tone of the governor’s race. He voices the concerns of many Republicans that a bad campaign between Kemp and Perdue could leave the GOP divided ahead of the November election and potentially cost the party the governorship in a state it has dominated for two decades.
“I can’t stand either one. I’m mad at both of them,” Walker told an audience at the University of North Georgia last month, according to audio obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He later told nationally syndicated Conservative radio hosts Clay Travis and Buck Sexton that “inter-squad fighting” was a distraction from efforts to unify the party.
“I told people I was upset because we have strong candidates in the running,” he said. “We can’t keep fighting each other when we have this country hurting.”
That anxiety is particularly pronounced in Georgia, where Republicans attributed the loss of two Senate seats in 2021 to party infighting after the 2020 presidential election. Those defeats gave Democrats a majority in the Senate.
Trump, who narrowly lost Georgia in 2020 and made the state a centerpiece of his lie that the election was stolen, is doing nothing to ease tensions. He appears to be micromanaging efforts to defeat Kemp, whom he blames for not trying to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia — something the governor had no authority to do.
The former president retaliated by publicly recruiting Perdue, one of the defeated senators in 2021, to run for governor. Trying to pave the way for Perdue, Trump persuaded another loyalist gubernatorial candidate, Vernon Jones, to walk off the field and instead run for a congressional seat with his explicit support.
The GOP dynamic contrasts with the Democratic side’s direct alignment between incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams, the all but certain candidate for governor. The two are longtime political allies. Abrams’ strong support was a major factor in propelling Warnock to the Senate in 2021, and they’re likely to run intertwined campaigns focusing on many of the same issues, including Medicaid expansion and protection. voting rights.
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story. But his political team has not spoken to Walker about his endorsement in the race for governor, according to a person familiar with conversations between the two camps who requested anonymity to discuss internal operations.
Kemp never asked for Walker’s blessing, spokesman Cody Hall said. Perdue’s campaign did not respond to questions about whether Perdue had asked for Walker’s support.
Walker has his own issues, including scrutinizing his past threats of violence, his business dealings and his political stances in the Senate race. But he’s considered a solid favorite in the primary in part because of the stardom he gained after leading the University of Georgia to a national championship after the 1980 season and winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982.
With Walker currently backed by many Perdue and Kemp voters, there’s little incentive for him to drive either party crazy, said Randy Evans, an Atlanta attorney and former Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg who supports Walker.
Evans said Walker had become the “900-pound gorilla” of elementary school. “The truth is, Herschel is bigger than either of them put together,” Evans said.
However, other Trump loyalists still believe Walker will support Perdue.
“I think you’re going to have a unified Trump ticket,” said Debbie Dooley, a national tea party leader and top supporter of Trump’s 2016 candidacy who lives in suburban Atlanta.
Walker has pledged to support the main winner. Spokesperson Mallory Blount said Walker is “laser-focused on unifying the party so we can defeat Senator Warnock.”
One likely outcome, Georgia Republican political consultant Chip Lake suggests, is that Walker could “fine tune” the situation by appearing with Trump and Perdue at a rally without offering an explicit endorsement.
“I think Herschel can share the stage with him and David Perdue and say, ‘Look, I’m not taking an official position in the primary for governor, but what I’m doing is I’m here. with my friend Donald Trump, the former president, and I’m proud that he has my back,” Lake said. “They can thread that needle.”
Helping Walker dodge all of Trump’s demands is a relationship that predates their entry into politics. Walker played for the Trump-owned New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League and vacationed with Trump and his children.
“President Trump has been a great friend of mine for years. He’s a great man, he’s got a great family, I’m going to support him, but he’s not running Georgia, I’m running Georgia,” Walker told Newsmax on Feb. 7.
Walker also has ties to Kemp, dating back to Walker’s time at the University of Georgia.
Kemp was best friends with Daniel Dooley, the son of legendary Bulldog football coach Vince Dooley. (The Dooleys are not linked to Debbie Dooley.) In a July interview with The Associated Press, Kemp recalled how he and his friend stormed the field after the game when Walker scored his first touchdown. college by knocking down Bill Bates of Tennessee in 1980.
“Daniel and I rushed onto the pitch after the game and kind of snuck in with the team and walked into the locker room,” Kemp recalled. “So I’ve been around Herschel a lot, and I know a lot of people who know Herschel really well, and you know he’s just a great guy and he’s a fucking good dude.”
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.
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