The Jolt: Herschel Walker moves further right in search of conservative votes

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks during a ‘Unite Georgia Bus Tour,’ in Canton, Georgia on Sept. 27, 2022. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks during a ‘Unite Georgia Bus Tour,’ in Canton, Georgia on Sept. 27, 2022. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Not long ago, Herschel Walker’s campaign was full of talk about bipartisanship and unity. His campaign tour is even dubbed the “Unite Georgia” bus tour.

But as he faces a lingering gap in support among some conservatives, the Republican Senate hopeful is racing to emphasize more hard-right positions.

In recent weeks, the former football star has endorsed a 15-week federal abortion ban (along with his opposition to all abortions), sharpened his opposition to Medicaid expansion and leveled new attacks against transgender student athletes who seek to compete in women sports.

That strategy was center stage at Walker’s stop at a gun range Wednesday in the middle Georgia town of Smarr, where dozens of supporters cheered his attacks on school policies and transgender rights while occasional bursts of gunfire echoed from nearby fields.

After hopping off his bright-red campaign bus, Walker also slammed Democrats’ immigration policy and blamed “wokeness” in the public school system for “destroying innocent minds” and sparking racial divides. Kids “hug each other, they play together, they don’t know anything” when they’re young, he said.

“And then our government comes in and starts telling them, ‘You’re white, you’re Black, you shouldn’t feel like that,’” Walker said. “No, we need to get out of that. Get away from stuff like that.”

Walker’s emphasis on cultural issues comes at a time when Gov. Brian Kemp is increasingly focusing his message on high inflation and economic concerns— and less on the antiabortion restrictions and firearms expansions he signed into law to the delight of conservatives.

Kemp has reason to steer clear of those issues. He’s effectively consolidated GOP support after humiliating a Donald Trump-backed opponent in the May primary, and leads Stacey Abrams by at least four percentage points in most public polls. He’s now maneuvering to win over more swing voters.

Walker, on the other hand, has struggled to win over a narrow bloc of conservatives who indicate in polls they’re siding with the Democrat — U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock — or voting for the third-party candidate. Others say they plan to skip the Senate race altogether.

Walker’s allies say his strategy is also designed to mobilize older white GOP voters with a message that Democrats are trying to use race to divide Georgians. At the Smarr event, Walker smiled as he called his audience “mutts,” a familiar portion of his stump speech that brought a wave of applause.

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings. I’m not calling you names. But 23andMe has screwed us all up,” he said of the DNA testing service. “Y’all are mutts, too. But one thing I want to tell you that is good, though: You are an American mutt.”

Walter Spangler, a truck driver from nearby Barnesville, said it was a “message that America needs to hear.”

“If we aren’t going to change the country with a presidential election, the way we’re going to change things is at the grassroots level,” said Spangler, who held a white “Trump fan” placard. “We’ve got to change things at the county and state level.”


Gov. Brian Kemp, left, reacts with Dennis Shea, of Area Development magazine, which named Georgia top state for doing business in 2022 at at the Kia Plant on Sept. 28, 2022, in West Point, Georgia. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

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Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

MAGAZINE POLITICS. Most Georgians have probably never heard of Area Development magazine, an outlet devoted to economic recruiters. Gov. Brian Kemp seems determined to change that.

The niche publication awarded Georgia the “top state for doing business” award for the ninth consecutive year, an honor Kemp announced at a campaign stop in West Point on Wednesday and followed up with a publicity blitz.

The governor is following the lead of his GOP predecessor, Nathan Deal, who highlighted the magazine rankings during his 2014 reelection campaign. That frustrated critics who accused him of using the accolades to mask the state’s economic problems.

The criteria to be the “top state” sound a lot like the reasons put forward by companies such as Rivian, Remington and others in announcing plans to locate to Georgia, including available real estate, and reliable logistics and infrastructure. Other criteria that caught our eyes: “favorable regulatory environment” and “cooperative & responsive state government.”


FAKE NEWS. Gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams on Wednesday used a little known news source — The Columbus News — to back up her accusation that Georgia’s new antiabortion restrictions allow police to investigate women for miscarriages, which Republicans deny.

But the site Abrams cited is not an actual news outlet, according to Nick Wooten, a politics reporter for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Wooten said on Twitter the site had misused his reporting to craft its article and got some of the facts wrong in the process.

Wooten noted that the domain for the “Columbus News” was registered in 2022 and has only “staff writer” as a byline. “It isn’t legit,” he wrote.

By the end of the day, Abrams’ original Tweet was deleted and a new one linked to Wooten’s original and excellent reporting on local law enforcement agencies’ confusion about the new abortion law.


AD WATCH. The pro-Raphael Warnock Senate Majority PAC released a new ad Thursday as part of its $33 million fall TV reservation, which attacked his GOP opponent in the U.S. Senate race.

The 30-second spot focuses on Herschel Walker’s history of violent incidents that go beyond the threats he leveled against his ex-wife Cindy Grossman.

“Herschel Walker threatening to kill his wife was not an isolated incident,” the narrator says. “He made violent threats at least ten times over a decade.”


MORE ADS. Planned Parenthood Votes, the political arm of Planned Parenthood, has released a series of ads backing U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. More spots also attack their opponents, Herschel Walker and Gov. Brian Kemp.

The group is spending six figures on the series of 15-second ads, which are part of an overall $50 million to back 2022 candidates in races across the nation.

“No politician should take away our power to control our bodies,” the pro-Abrams spot says. “Take control.”



- Stacey Abrams was in South Fulton Wednesday night, where she promised to increase investment south of I-20 and addressed the polls that show her trailing Gov. Brian Kemp. “Polls are snapshots. The question is who are they taking a picture of?”

- First Lady Marty Kemp was on the campaign trail in Harris County for a Women for Kemp event, one of many she hosts periodically over the campaign season.

Along with his stop in middle Georgia, Herschel Walker’s bus tour made a stop in McDonough on Wednesday.


NEVER MIND. The U.S. Senate debate planned by the Macon Center for Collaborative Journalism on Oct. 13th has been canceled.

The center made the announcement Wednesday, explaining that Herschel Walker, the GOP nominee, never responded to its invitation. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Libertarian Chase Oliver had both said they would attend.

Not only are the chances of more than one debate between Walker and Warnock much smaller, the Macon cancellation also means Walker will likely never debate Oliver, whose Libertarian run has been drawing a crucial 3% in the race in recent polls.


Senator Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., listens as witnesses testify at a hearing of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations focused on uncounted deaths in America’s prisons and jails in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20th, 2022.

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

PRISON OVERSIGHT. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff unveiled legislation Wednesday that would create new oversight of federal prisons. If passed, it would require routine inspections and create an ombudsman position to investigate concerns about the treatment of prisoners and staff.

The proposal follows an investigation of safety concerns and allegations of mismanagement at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and across the federal prison system conducted by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Ossoff chairs.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, are cosponsoring the legislation with Ossoff. U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath filed the companion bill in the House.



  • President Joe Biden will visit FEMA’s headquarters to receive a briefing on Hurricane Ian and the federal response.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff is a member of the committee.
  • The House is focused on mostly non-controversial legislation while it waits on the Senate to pass a stopgap federal spending bill, which could happen sometime today.


CIVIL RIGHTS COLD CASES. The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff to extend investigations of unsolved murders of Black people during the Civil Rights era.

The Civil Rights Cold Case Records Review Board was created in 2019, but then-President Donald Trump never appointed any members. President Joe Biden appointed four people to the board in June of 2021, three with ties to Atlanta, who were all confirmed in February.

Ossoff’s bill — which he filed with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — will extend the board’s term through 2027.

“We will demonstrate that the United States will never rest in the pursuit of truth and justice for those who were lynched, abducted, beaten, killed, and assaulted in the segregation era of the South and during the Civil Rights movement,” Ossoff said in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The legislation now goes to the House for approval.


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