Herschel Walker reemerges with South Georgia rally focusing on agriculture

OCILLA — Herschel Walker’s speech was shorter and his message a bit sharper as he talked to voters in South Georgia on Tuesday, his first campaign rally since a wave of controversies engulfed his bid for the U.S. Senate.

The Republican nominee spoke for just 10 minutes and hewed largely to a more disciplined message, repeatedly linking his Democratic opponent, incumbent Raphael Warnock, with President Joe Biden. Walker is betting that Biden’s low approval ratings will rub off on Warnock.

“He seems to care more about Joe Biden than he cares about Georgia,” Walker told several hundred supporters who had gathered at Bad Ash Motors in Ocilla.

Walker also criticized Warnock, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, for pushing for $4 billion in debt relief for Black and other “socially disadvantaged“ farmers. The money, designed to compensate for years of financial discrimination, was included in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package Biden signed into law last year. But lawsuits filed by white farmers have frozen the relief, and two judges have issued injunctions saying the plan may be discriminatory.

“Why doesn’t he pass a bill for all the farmers?” Walker asked the crowd. “There’s a lot of farmers here in Georgia that are hurting.

“The guy I’m running against, all he talks about is the color of your skin,” he added.

Warnock’s campaign responded that Walker was again offering no solutions.

“Rev. Warnock has a clear record of working to lower farmers’ costs. invest in their mental health and strengthen rural communities across the state,” Warnock spokeswoman Meredith Brasher said. “Voters have a clear choice this fall.”

The matchup between Walker and Warnock is the first time in modern history that two Black candidates have squared off in a U.S. Senate race in Georgia.

Walker shared Tuesday’s event with Republican state Agriculture Commissioner nominee Tyler Harper. A giant John Deere tractor flanked the speakers, a visual reminder of Walker’s campaign theme of the week: agriculture.

Agriculture is Georgia’s No. 1 industry, and rural voters will be critical to Walker’s electoral chances.

One voter liked what he heard Tuesday.

“He’s a good man and I think he shares our values,” said John D. Williams, who lives in an assisted living center in Irwin County.

Walker’s past speeches have been long and rambling, filled with personal anecdotes and winding remarks about various policies. His confusing comments about climate change recently went viral. Tuesday’s slimmed-down remarks appear to be designed to avoid such problems. The new discipline comes after he added several veteran political operatives to help his struggling campaign.

Tuesday’s event marks a return to the public spotlight after a couple of weeks of events that were either private or not advertised in advance. He has additional events scheduled later in the week in Athens and Gainesville.

Tuesday’s campaign stop was also notable because it was an event open to the media. Amid a swirl of negative headlines, the press has been blocked from attending some recent events or only learned about Walker’s whereabouts after the fact.. The Walker campaign notified some media about Tuesday’s event.

Walker declined to speak to reporters after the event.