AJC poll: Herschel Walker dominates the Georgia GOP Senate race

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker held a commanding lead in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll at 66%, with none of his GOP rivals in double digits. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker held a commanding lead in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll at 66%, with none of his GOP rivals in double digits. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Herschel Walker is ignoring his Senate GOP rivals and focusing entirely on a November matchup against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll indicates he has little reason to change course.

With soaring name recognition and former President Donald Trump’s backing, the former University of Georgia football star leads the GOP primary field with 66% of support. His closest competitor, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, was at 7%.

The other three contenders polled within the 3.3 percentage point margin of error: Former state Rep. Josh Clark, construction contractor Kelvin King, U.S. Army veteran John McColumn and former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler.

With only about 23% of likely GOP voters undecided, Walker’s rivals need a seismic change to force the front-runner into a June runoff by bringing his total below the 50% threshold. So far, their warnings that Walker’s history of violence and erratic behavior will come back to haunt him have had little effect.

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About three-quarters of likely GOP voters had a favorable image of Walker, while 10% had a negative view of him. Only 14% of respondents didn’t know enough about Walker to form an opinion, giving little room for his rivals to make headway.

“Let’s give it a shot,” Charlie Defrancesco, a health care executive in Mineral Bluff, said of his view of Walker. “I think he’s accounted for his background and everybody deserves a second chance.”

With cash-strapped campaigns and limited outside help, the clock is working against Walker’s challengers. The May 24 primary is less than a month away, and the three-week early voting period begins next week. His top GOP rivals have an enormous lift ahead.

The poll showed that only 27% of likely GOP voters had a positive view of Black. While only 9% had a negative view of him, about two-thirds of voters didn’t know enough about Black, who served three terms in statewide office.

ExploreAn interactive look at the AJC poll
Combined ShapeCaption
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll gauged support in the GOP Senate primary for Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, left, at 7%, putting him in second place behind Herschel Walker, who notched 66%.

Credit: AJC File

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll gauged support in the GOP Senate primary for Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, left, at 7%, putting him in second place behind Herschel Walker, who notched 66%.

Credit: AJC File

Combined ShapeCaption
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll gauged support in the GOP Senate primary for Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, left, at 7%, putting him in second place behind Herschel Walker, who notched 66%.

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

Saddler faced an even bigger challenge. About 10% of likely Republican voters had a favorable view of him and 9% had an unfavorable view. The rest — 81% — didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

The poll was conducted April 10-22 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and involved 886 likely Republican primary voters.

It’s not likely that massive reinforcements are coming for any of Walker’s rivals. Though outside groups have rumbled about stepping up attacks on Walker, none has spent significantly.

His rivals haven’t thrown in the towel. They warn his history of violence against women, exaggeration about his business record and academic experience, a pattern of confusing statements on the campaign trail, and a regimen of tightly controlled appearances will make him more vulnerable to Warnock.

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Latham Saddler is fighting an uphill battle, with an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showing that, with less than a month until the GOP primary, 81% of respondents did not know enough about him to have an opinion.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Latham Saddler is fighting an uphill battle, with an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showing that, with less than a month until the GOP primary, 81% of respondents did not know enough about him to have an opinion.

Combined ShapeCaption
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Latham Saddler is fighting an uphill battle, with an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showing that, with less than a month until the GOP primary, 81% of respondents did not know enough about him to have an opinion.

Saddler, who has more cash in his account than Black, has snapped up airtime on Fox News for a volley of campaign ads. He’s also aggressively hit the fundraising circuit seeking late cash infusions, pointedly noting that Walker is skipping GOP debates.

“Unlike my opponent, I’m happy to take questions,” Saddler told a group of wealthy Atlanta donors this week.

And Black launched his first TV ad this week, a campaign spot that evokes past remarks from Walker supportive of a pathway to citizenship for millions in the country illegally. But Black has only put about $37,000 behind the ad, giving it limited airtime.

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelvin King's numbers were so low in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that they fell within the 3.3 percentage point margin of error. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelvin King's numbers were so low in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that they fell within the 3.3 percentage point margin of error. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelvin King's numbers were so low in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that they fell within the 3.3 percentage point margin of error. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Walker, meanwhile, shows no signs of deviating from his approach. He has hardly, if ever, uttered the names of his GOP opponents. And he brandishes the endorsements of figures from two distinct wings in the Republican hierarchy: Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

His campaign this week purchased $500,000 worth of airtime to position himself for the general election. In a fundraising appeal this week, Walker noted Warnock is “flush with cash” with nearly $26 million in the bank. And he made clear he was readying for the November campaign — and not the May primary.

“The game is a long way from being over,” he said. “I’ve never taken anything for granted — and never will.”

AJC Republican primary poll

The poll was conducted April 10-22 for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It questioned 886 likely Republican primary voters and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

If the election to choose a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate were being held today, for whom would you vote?

Herschel Walker — 66%

Gary Black — 7%

Latham Saddler — 2%

Josh Clark — 1%

Kelvin King — 1%

Jon McColumn — 1%

Undecided — 23%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Herschel Walker?

Favorable — 77%

Unfavorable — 10%

Don’t know; refused to answer — 14%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Gary Black?

Favorable — 27%

Unfavorable — 9%

Don’t know; refused to answer — 64%

Overall, do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Latham Saddler?

Favorable — 10%

Unfavorable — 9%

Don’t know; refused to answer — 81%

Poll information: The survey was administered by the School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center at the University of Georgia. The AJC-SPIA Poll was conducted April 10-22 and included a total of 886 likely Republican primary voters in Georgia. The calculated margin of error for the total sample is +/-3.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Some totals may not equal 100% because of rounding.