Walker wins big, will face Warnock in November

Herschel Walker speaks Tuesday at his victory party at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta after scoring an outright win in the GOP's six-candidate U.S. Senate primary. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Herschel Walker speaks Tuesday at his victory party at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta after scoring an outright win in the GOP's six-candidate U.S. Senate primary. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Herschel Walker crushed five rivals in Tuesday’s primary, easily clinching the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. But he now enters a very different general election contest against a seasoned and well-funded opponent: Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock.

The showdown between the two men — one a former football great and the other that pastor at a church steeped in civil rights history — will be one of the most closely watched races in the nation. It will be the first in which Georgia voters have nominated two Black candidates for the Senate. Polls show the the contest is neck-and-neck and the stakes couldn’t be higher; Georgia could, again, determine control of the U..S. Senate.

“The road to defeating the Biden agenda runs through Georgia,” Walker said at a victory party with supporters Tuesday night.

The Warnock campaign, which stayed above the fray while the Republicans battled it out, provided a preview of the strategy it will use against its newly minted opponent.

“Walker is not who he says he is,” Warnock campaign manager Quentin Fulks said in a memo. He listed multiple instances where Walker had inflated or falsified his record.

The memo also claimed that Walker had “proven he’s not up for the job” and touted Warnock’s work aimed at doing things such as capping insulin costs and lowering gas prices as well as securing funds for the Port in Savannah.

Heading into Tuesday night, Walker was widely expected to win the GOP contest, and he didn’t disappoint. As the running back who helped lead the University Georgia to a national championship title in 1980, he is a bona fide celebrity. He was encouraged to run by former President Donald Trump, who phoned in to the Walker victory party after the race was called.

“What a long distance you’ve come. Congratulations, Herschel,” Trump said.

But Walker doesn’t come out of the bruising race unscathed. His opponents attacked him relentlessly, citing allegations of domestic violence, his refusal to debate and gaffes when talking about policy. One rival, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, has said he won’t support Walker, citing his past treatment of women.

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In his bid for reelection, Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock's will face Republican Herschel Walker in November. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In his bid for reelection, Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock's will face Republican Herschel Walker in November. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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In his bid for reelection, Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock's will face Republican Herschel Walker in November. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Democrats will only amplify those attacks and they’ll have more money to do it.

Warnock has amassed a campaign war chest of almost $30 million. Walker has raked in about half of that and has already been spending in the primary. His campaign said he’ll hunker down in the coming days to raise more money for the race ahead.

And those totals don’t include the outside money certain to flow into the race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already released ifs first salvo in the ad war, with a 30-second spot calling Warnock’s personal story “inspirational” but his Senate record bad for Georgia. The ad also linked Warnock to President Joe Biden, whose low approval ratings could be a drag on the senator.

In a sign that Warnock is prepared to break from Biden when needed, his campaign memo noted that he had stood up to the Biden administration’s plan to cut critical funding for Georgia’s military bases, including the Savannah Readiness Center.

At his victory party Tuesday night, Walker, who usually speaks in freewheeling style and relies on anecdotes from his own life story, read from a teleprompter. He previewed a polished new speech focused on the regular Georgians he would help if elected.

“Their American dream is becoming a nightmare,” he said.

And he predicted the general election campaign ahead was about to get a lot harder.

“And that’s the way I like it,” Walker said. “I’m prepared to take the hits. The harder they come, the harder I’ll fight.”

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A supporter wears a “Run Herschel Run” button in support of Herschel Walker at the candidate's party Tuesday at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta to celebrate his win in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary. Walker will face U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, in November. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

A supporter wears a “Run Herschel Run” button in support of Herschel Walker at the candidate's party Tuesday at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta to celebrate his win in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary. Walker will face U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, in November. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
A supporter wears a “Run Herschel Run” button in support of Herschel Walker at the candidate's party Tuesday at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta to celebrate his win in the GOP's U.S. Senate primary. Walker will face U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, in November. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

As she waited for her son to come out and claim the nomination, Walker’s mother, Christine, said she was proud of her son and predicted his faith would carry him through the difficult campaign ahead.

“He tries so hard and he runs so hard and I pray for him,” she said.