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Analysis: Why Herschel Walker's candidacy is a total nightmare for Senate Republicans

Walker’s move from Texas, where he has lived for decades, to Georgia suggests that he is likely to run for the seat currently held by Sen. Raphael Warnock. And, given Walker’s high name ID — primarily derived from his years of football stardom — and the vocal support of former President Donald Trump for his candidacy, Walker would immediately be the favorite for the GOP nomination.
And that is a MAJOR problem for Republicans.
Walker has myriad potential problems as a Senate nominee, including:
  1. He hasn’t lived in the state for a very long time. Moving back to the state to run for office opens Walker up to charges of carpetbagging — and he has no ready answer for that.
  2. He’s been accused of threatening behavior. Walker has been open about his diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder and the struggles it has caused him, including writing a book about his experiences. But a recent AP report that went through Walker’s business and divorce records reveal troubling — and previously unreported — behavior. “The documents detail accusations that Walker repeatedly threatened his ex-wife, exaggerated claims of financial success and alarmed business associates with unpredictable behavior.” (Walker didn’t respond to the AP’s request for comment on the report.)
  3. He’s never been a candidate before. A Senate race is a very tough place to make a maiden campaign. And that goes double when you are talking about what will likely be one of the most closely watched and expensive Senate races in the country. Walker would be under a very bright light from the second he announced his candidacy — and if past is prologue, he could struggle at times under such close scrutiny.
While it’s impossible to predict exactly how a campaign between Warnock and Walker would play out, what is clear is that the former NFL star would enter the race from that starting point. That reality has already led some Republican strategists close to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to speak out about the dangers of nominating Walker.
“This is about as comprehensive a takedown as I’ve ever read,” tweeted Josh Holmes, a longtime McConnell adviser, earlier this month of the AP story. “My lord.”
McConnell himself has yet to speak out publicly against Walker but, according to sources cited by CNN, has made his reservations very clear privately. Wrote CNN’s Manu Raju, Alex Rogers and Mike Warren earlier this month:
“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested to allies that former Georgia senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler should take another look at running again, according to three sources familiar with the matter, after their narrow losses in January flipped the Senate to Democratic control.”
The problem for McConnell is that — as I noted above — if Walker is a candidate, he has a very high likelihood of being the party’s nominee given his celebrity and the likely strong backing he will have from the former president. (In March, Trump put out a statement that read in part: “He would be unstoppable, just like he was when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, and in the NFL. He is also a GREAT person. Run Herschel, run!”)
Given the current power dynamic in the Republican Party, it’s not at all clear that a McConnell-backed candidate like Loeffler or Perdue could overcome Walker — even with the various issues I documented above surrounding him.
Which would then mean that in one of the GOP’s best pickup opportunities in the country, the party would put forward a candidate who is an opposition researcher’s dream — not to mention someone who has never run for any office prior to 2022.
If that scenario does come to pass, it has implications well beyond Georgia. Republicans need to net just a single seat to retake control of the Senate in 2023. And Georgia, with the narrow victory margin for both Warnock and President Joe Biden in 2020, is at the top of the list of potential pickups. Lose Georgia, and Republicans need to find a pickup elsewhere — in places like Arizona, where Sen. Mark Kelly looks very strong, or New Hampshire, where essentially all GOP hopes lie with the potential candidacy of Gov. Chris Sununu.
In short, Senate Republicans are not in a place where they can simply write off one of their best pickup chances without feeling the impact elsewhere in the country. And while no one should say conclusively that Walker would lose to Warnock, it is quite clear that the former running back would have major challenges if he was the Republican nominee.
The worst thing for McConnell and his fellow establishment Republicans? They know all of this. They just might not be able to stop it.
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