Off the Field, Herschel Walker Fumbles: Inside the Hail Mary Attempt to Have a Football Star Flip the Senate

Walker, a former NFL player and close friend of Donald Trump, has taught a master class in self-destruction during his GOP-backed campaign to unseat Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock

Former President Donald Trump hugs Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker during his Save America rally in Perry, Ga., on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.
Photo: Ben Gray/AP Photo

Football legend Herschel Walker won a landslide victory in Georgia's Republican primary for U.S. Senate, garnering more than 68% of the vote.

Now poll numbers show a close race between Walker, 60, who has never run for elected office before, and Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, 53, in a contest that could determine which party controls the Senate. Yet questions remain about whether the heralded running back is ready for the general election — and whether he is qualified to govern at all.

RELATED: Herschel Walker's Campaign Aides Say He's a 'Pathological Liar'

Accusations of violence against multiple women in the past continue to haunt Walker, with one of his primary opponents claiming that the allegations should disqualify him. The candidate's ex-wife Cindy DeAngelis Grossman claimed he held a gun to her temple and threatened her while they were married, and court records show she received a protective order in 2005, three years after the couple divorced. Walker has said he doesn't remember his threats, though, because he suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Walker, now remarried, developed a dozen alter-egos to combat the intense bullying he suffered as a child, including the Hero, the Judge, the Consoler, the Frightened/Wounded and the Enforcer, according to his 2008 book Breaking Free. He says he has no memory of actions taken by some of the alters, writing that years of therapy helped to integrate the personalities.

On the campaign trail, Walker's stories of being bullied as a child make him relatable. But his campaign has been under constant shelling for other things he has said.

After declaring that "the fatherless home is a major, major problem," and, to men, "Remember, you can leave your wife but don't leave your child" on The Charlie Kirk Show in 2020, it was revealed that Walker himself appears to have left some children behind, only publicly acknowledging one of his children: 22-year-old son Christian, a social media star whom he raised with Grossman.

Herschel Walker and Christian Walker
Herschel Walker (left) and son Christian Walker. Christian Walker/Twitter

The Daily Beast recovered a paternity suit from 2014 allegedly proving that the candidate fathered a 10-year-old boy whom he is not raising. Then two more children were revealed. Finally, Walker released a statement that he has three sons and an adult daughter. He says he never denied he had four children and simply "chose not to use them as props," but the Daily Beast reported that he lied about the children to his own staff.

More exaggerations and fables have been piling up, putting career fact-checkers to work. Walker claimed he graduated the University of Georgia at the top 1% of his class (not true, and he didn't graduate), said that he served in law enforcement and was an FBI agent (determined false), and his work for one veterans' organization, Patriot Support, turned out to be a for-profit company that settled with the Department of Justice for preying on veterans and defrauding the government.

He also overstated his business success, and once claimed that he had an FDA-approved dry mist that would kill any COVID on your body.

Then he lied about his lies.

Heisman Trophy winner and Republican candidate for US Senate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally on May 23, 2022 in Athens, Georgia. Tomorrow is the Primary Election Day in the state of Georgia.
Megan Varner/Getty

Some of Walker's public statements have been head-scratching at best. While the campaign has tried to control the damage by keeping reporters away from campaign events, what has become public shows him blundering repeatedly.

Giving his reasons for opposing the Green New Deal, a framework for environmental action that didn't pass the U.S. Senate, he said, "Since we don't control the air, our good air decides to float over to China's bad air. So when China gets our good air, their bad air gotta move, so it moves over to our good air space, and now we gotta clean that back up, while they messing ours up."

RELATED: Ga. Senate Candidate Herschel Walker Invents His Own Science to Try and Explain Air Pollution

Asked about the Uvalde shooting, Walker told Fox News, "Cain killed Abel. You know, and that's a problem that we have. And I say what we need to do is look into how we can stop those things … What about doing a department that can look at young men that's looking at — and young women — that's looking at social media. What about doing that? Looking into things like that. And we can stop that that way."

Heisman Trophy winner and Republican candidate for US Senate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally on May 23, 2022 in Athens, Georgia. Tomorrow is the Primary Election Day in the state of Georgia.
Megan Varner/Getty

But Walker's star appeal can't be underplayed. Alabama dominated Southeastern Conference (SEC) football in the 1970s. Then along came a freshman running back from outside Wrightsville, Georgia, who was simply unstoppable. Walker was a phenomenal athlete, one of the fittest football players ever. He would usher the Georgia Bulldogs to the championship in 1980. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1982, the first Black man to win from an SEC school. During his time at Georgia, he lost a total of one regular season game, and none in the SEC.

In a bastion of football fanatics, Walker delivered immeasurable pride to fellow Georgians, and became a state-wide hero. He went on to play in the USFL and the NFL from 1983 to 1997.

"He has iconic status among a share of the Georgia electorate, particularly older voters, those who were alive and remember his glory days back 40 years ago, and we know older voters are more likely to turn out," says University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock III.

Bullock says Walker is very effective at talking one-on-one with voters, and particularly Republicans. "They like what he did 40 years ago and they don't like Democrats," he says, so they will likely stick with Walker no matter what.

Walker beat five challengers in the primary election despite refusing to debate. One primary challenger even said he'd donate $1 million to the charity of Walker's choice if he'd agree to a debate. Walker didn't take him up on it. He didn't need it. He seems to have Trump supporters in his pocket.

Walker was a major supporter of Trump in 2020, and the former president has endorsed Walker. Their long standing friendship began in 1983 when Walker played on Trump's New Jersey Generals USFL team. Trump twice appointed Walker to the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, urged Walker to run for Senate, and endorsed his candidacy.

To Trump supporters in Georgia, this may be all they need to know.

Herschel Walker, US Republican Senate candidate for Georgia, speaks to members of the media following a campaign rally in Macon, Georgia, US, on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Heisman Trophy-winner Walker is vying to face incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock in his first political run.
Herschel Walker. Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty

On his television program Indisputable with Dr. Rashad Richey, the Atlanta-based political analyst said, "They can control Herschel Walker. If he gets elected … he will be 100 percent controlled by the Trumpites of the party, in particular Donald Trump himself. He does not challenge narratives."

After Trump lost Georgia in 2020 by the now-infamous 11,779 votes, the former president asked the state's Republican leaders to "find" the votes required to change the election outcome. Georgia officials refused, informing the president that the data supported Joe Biden's win.

Still bitter about how 2020 played out, many conservative constituents are willing to place their vote with any candidate who demonstrates loyalty to Trump.

However, this year's Georgia Senate race will be won or lost based on the 5-10% of voters who aren't staunchly aligned with either party, Bullock says. They may be unfamiliar with the retired football hero who was living in Texas until he decided to run for office. Warnock's campaign is trying to persuade those voters with ads that rerun video of Walker, letting his own fallacies penetrate into the minds of voters.

Bullock doubts Walker would win if the election were held today, with voters under 45 and those from outside Georgia being less familiar with Walker's star status. But, he says, there's still time to win over swing voters.

"He seems to be incredibly unprepared" for a U.S. Senate candidate, Bullock says. "He needs to do what he was doing as a football player: sit down with the playbook, learn it, and then act upon it. Go home and become familiar with the issues."

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"He has to show that he has an understanding of what he's going to be having to pass judgment on should he get elected to the Senate," Bullock adds. "You know, what should the U.S. do about Ukraine, how should the U.S. handle the energy crisis? Or monkeypox?"

Lately, Walker has been trying to change course. He's been on a listening tour, sympathizing with ordinary Georgians and pinning their problems on Democrats, but it could very well be too little too late. With the fate of the Senate in his once-gifted hands, he simply can't afford another fumble.

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