How Warnock can beat Walker

Welcome to the Age of Celebrity politics

My spidey-sense is tingling about Herschel Walker. As someone who writes a lot about politics, especially Georgia politics, I pretty much ignored Walker as a Trump headfake, until he got in the race.

Back in February, NY Magazine’s Ed Kilgore called Walker a “deus ex machina to resolve their 2022 Senate dilemma.” I’ll quote the relevant part here:

A campaign against Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator fueled by an assault on Black voting rights won’t look that great if the candidate is a rich, white Republican like Loeffler, a savage hillbilly like Collins, or the gun-toting QAnon promoter Greene.

Elections are lost by candidates, but won by staffers. Walker has made good choices, starting with his spokesperson Mallory Blount.

Blount’s previous gig was as Gov. Brian Kemp’s press secretary. Before that, she bounced around the Trump administration, serving as Director of Specialty Media at the White House, and the chief Public Affairs official for HUD. Before that, she worked from the RNC. She’s solid.

Gov. Kemp’s spidey sense is also tingling.

"Herschel has always brought a lot when he's on the playing field, whether it's in football and now in politics, but we've got a lot of great Republicans for the U.S. Senate that are running including him now.  It's my hope that they're going to stay focused on things that I am and that's posting up against the disastrous policies of the Biden Administration," said Kemp.  

Staying focused means avoiding Trump-humping big lies like “stolen election” tropes. These need to be behind the GOP. It also means staying ahead of the mental health stories and allegations of past violence that are now peppering liberal media.

In our Age of Celebrity politics, Herschel Walker offers a pretty good package for Georgia Republicans. Even competing candidate Gary Black couldn’t say a bad word.

“I suppose I’ve always wanted an autograph,” Black said in a video he posted this week on social media, clutching a worn football. “But there are some things that are far more important now: the future of our country, the future of our families.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock wants to keep his seat for another six years. Walker is beatable, but like every candidate who tried to knock Donald Trump off the top of the pile found out, it’s not an intuitive, direct attack that can undo a celebrity. Some things not to do:

  1. Don’t make Walker a victim by harping on his mental health history. Sure, expose the multiple-personality disorder, and let Walker answer for it. But don’t make that the main issue unless you’re sure it will manifest during the campaign. Hell, look, we elected Joe Biden, who is the poster child for mental eldercare. Voters won’t respond unless there’s a burning scandal.

  2. Don’t focus on Walker, Texas Resident. As far as UGA fans are concerned, Herschel Walker is, now, forever, and forgiven in all the past, a Georgia resident. Hell, Georgia’s 6th Congressional District elected Lucy McBath to Congress, despite the fact her husband is a permanent resident of Tennessee, and she moved there. Another example: Marjorie Taylor Greene has a house near Alpharetta, where her husband’s business is located, but she claims Floyd County as her home. She could never win in the 6th CD, so she ran in the 14th and won. It doesn’t matter if Walker lived on the moon for 20 years.

  3. Don’t go negative on Walker personally. He’s a nice guy and will smile and make you look like a butt-hole. Not a good look for a preacher. Also, don’t go all “Jesus” preacher-style on him. You’re not going to get Black church members to oppose a Black Christian based on that.

So, how does Warnock beat Walker?

This is a long-shot, but if Warnock makes Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black look good in comparison, Black could surge. There’s no spark or celebrity around Black, but if perhaps Warnock made overtures about reaching out to white Georgians against the Trumpist horde, it could make (Gary) Black look like a more reasonable alternative.

Warnock’s best play is to focus on his own image, and make himself a more likable, and visible, part of the state’s political landscape. He’s really got a problem now in that when Insurance Commissioner John King (also a Major General in the Army Reserve for former State Adjutant) called seeking help in arranging transportation for some Afghan allies, Warnock wouldn’t return the calls.

Like Rep. Seth Moulton, Warnock should distance himself from President Biden, while super-gluing Walker to Trump. The more Walker clings to Trump, the more Walker hurts his own chances of winning statewide.

I realize that many readers here are more politically savvy than the average voter. But here’s the deal: name recognition, and feelings of love and pride due to being a sports legend is a powerful leg-up for Walker. People need a reason to not choose him, and in a primary, Republicans are likely not to find one. In the general election, messaging will be the key. Walker has a good staff.

Warnock has to “rise” to the competence level of his opponent if he wants to hold on to his seat. Sure, being the incumbent, and having the media, the entire Democrat machine, and the president on your side is a big boost. But it will take more than that for Warnock to polish his own image.

Honestly, I’d rather have Doug Collins or Kelly Loeffler in the Senate, or even David Perdue. But that’s not in the cards. This is why I think Walker has a shot, though he’s flawed. It’s not about his qualifications, it’s about our Age of Celebrity, and our tribal politics.

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