‘Run Herschel, run!’ Trump wants Walker to rush for Senate in 2022

09/25/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Former professional football player Herschel Walker speaks to the crowd before introducing President Donal Trump during a Blacks for Trump campaign rally at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta, Friday, September 25, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

09/25/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Former professional football player Herschel Walker speaks to the crowd before introducing President Donal Trump during a Blacks for Trump campaign rally at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta, Friday, September 25, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Georgia Republicans have buzzed for weeks over talk that UGA football legend Herschel Walker could run for the U.S. Senate. On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump joined the crowd urging the former running back to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the legendary Herschel Walker ran for the United States Senate in Georgia?” Trump said in a statement issued by his super PAC.

“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!”

It wasn’t an endorsement from Trump, the twice-impeached former president who remains wildly popular among Georgia Republicans. But it might as well have been.

Trump is set to play a leading role in the race to challenge Warnock, who is up for a full six-year term in 2022 after narrowly winning a special election runoff in January.

And the statement set off a ripple effect among other Republicans eyeing the race, including former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, both among a dozen potential high-profile challengers to Warnock.

Both would jockey for Trump’s support should they enter the race -- and neither are likely to launch a 2022 campaign if the former president is already pledged to a rival.

In this March 8, 1984, file photo, Donald Trump shakes hands with Herschel Walker in New York after agreement on a 4-year contract with the New Jersey Generals USFL football team. The New Jersey Generals have been largely forgotten, but Trump’s ownership of the team was formative in his evolution as a public figure and peerless self-publicist. With money and swagger, he led a shaky and relatively low-budget spring football league, the USFL, into a showdown with the NFL. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff, File)

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Walker and Trump have a longstanding relationship that dates to the early 1980s. The retired NFL star played in the short-lived United States Football League promoted by Trump and was one of his earliest – and most outspoken – supporters during the 2016 campaign.

He’s emerged as a voice for far-right conservative causes during Trump’s term and spoke up for him at last year’s Republican National Convention. He’s also been a key backer of Loeffler - he cut an ad for her last year - and Kemp. And he has iconic status across much of Bulldog Nation.

But many Republicans are skeptical Walker, who hasn’t returned repeated calls seeking comment, will run. He now lives in Texas and would have to move to Georgia to run for office. And he would also have to launch a political network from scratch after no involvement in state grassroots politics.

Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, will be a formidable incumbent.

He’s got sky-high name recognition from his Jan. 5 victory over Loeffler, the power of incumbency a robust political network and a hefty fundraising list after his win made him the first Black U.S. senator in Georgia history.

And Warnock hasn’t held back about the rush of candidates lining up to run against him: “I am prepared to defeat whatever Republican they come up with.”

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