UGA students debate Walker’s attempt to score big in politics

The UGA College Republicans face the Young Democrats of UGA in a debate about various issues including reproductive justice and inflation. (NIMRA AHMAD / NIMRA.AHMAD@AJC.COM)

Credit: Nimra Ahmad

Credit: Nimra Ahmad

The UGA College Republicans face the Young Democrats of UGA in a debate about various issues including reproductive justice and inflation. (NIMRA AHMAD / NIMRA.AHMAD@AJC.COM)

ATHENS — As a football star at the University of Georgia in the early 1980s, Herschel Walker was unquestionably the big man on campus.

These days, there’s ample debate about the U.S. Senate candidate’s popularity among current students.

Walker, a Republican, and his Democratic Party opponent, incumbent U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, were brought up frequently during a debate last week on campus between the UGA College Republicans and the Young Democrats of UGA.

“The Republicans are gonna take back the House and the Senate in November — that starts with putting Herschel Walker (in the U.S. Senate) and sending the radical reverend back to Ebenezer Baptist,” said Noah Ring, one of the College Republican speakers in the debate. “Whether or not we should increase environmental spending is not as important as whether or not we should find a way to lower gas prices, lower inflation and lower the price of rent.”

Ring’s statement was met with widespread applause.

Other students aren’t sold on Walker.

Katy Gates, a sophomore at UGA and the vice president of the College Democrats of Georgia, comes from a family of longtime Bulldog fans.

“Herschel Walker as a football player and Herschel Walker as a political candidate are two very different things,” Gates said. “He’s using UGA and his status as a UGA legend as a way to falsely relate to people.”

When Walker announced his run for the U.S. Senate last year, Georgians immediately recognized him as the Heisman Trophy winner who helped Bulldogs win the 1980 National Championship. He was endorsed by former Georgia head football coach and athletics director Vince Dooley, who died last week at the age of 90. Former President Donald Trump, whose relationship with Walker goes back to him playing on a now-defunct USFL team Trump owned in the 1980s, was an early supporter of Walker entering the race.

“I ... feel very excited to see, certainly a legend like Herschel Walker who represented our state very well in sports, on the ballot to represent our state,” said Blake Bassham, chairman of the Georgia Association of College Republicans and a senior at the University of North Georgia.

In 2020, Georgia had the highest turnout of youth voters in the nation, with young adults contributing to 21% of the vote, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, at the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. The youth vote was credited by some experts for flipping the state blue in the presidential and U.S. Senate races.

UGA’s Tate Student Center is hosting early voting this week.

Former University of Georgia running back and U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker works the hedges shaking hands with fans before being introduced as part of the 1980 National Championship team during halftime against UAB in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Athens. (Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

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Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

While Walker attended the university for some time, he never actually graduated from UGA — though he did claim to have done so when he started his campaign.

College Republicans said that while Walker’s past as a football player is definitely an exciting one, it doesn’t factor into their support for him. Rather, they support him due to hopes that he would reduce inflation as well as his openness with mental health issues.

“That’s an inspirational thing to do,” said vice chairman of the Georgia Association of College Republicans and UGA senior Emanuel Hernaiz. “I think it’s what’s needed to be heard in society.”

College Democrats believe that Walker is using his mental health issues as a way of justifying police reports of violence. Walker has said he has been healed from his diagnosed dissociative identity disorder, but has provided few details.

Walker stated that he is not currently seeking treatment for his diagnosed dissociative identity disorder.

“I think he’s using it as an excuse, this idea of redemption, to not address (his) troubling past and to give voters a sound mind about voting for him,” said Christian Dent, a UGA freshman who serves on the executive board of the College Democrats of Georgia. “I don’t think that’s excusable.”

Hernaiz said he supports Walker in particular due to Warnock’s support for bills Hernaiz said have raised inflation. Gates and Dent, on the other hand, insist that Warnock is more qualified than Walker due to Warnock’s active participation in the Atlanta community prior to being elected for office.

“You don’t need to have been a career politician or whatever to serve in the Senate. But I think that you do need to have been there doing the work for the people you say that you’re trying to represent,” Gates said.