The Jolt: Herschel Walker’s campaign bars press, brings in reinforcements

News and analysis from the politics team of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Heisman Trophy winner and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally on May 23, 2022, in Athens, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Heisman Trophy winner and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a rally on May 23, 2022, in Athens, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images/TNS)

Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker has scarcely changed his approach to the media since running away with the GOP nod in May. He’s largely stuck to a “velvet rope” regimen of private events, tightly controlled appearances and limited-access speeches.

That strategy was even more pronounced in the last week as he faced another series of damaging stories that could threaten his credibility. But rather than address the criticism head on, Walker spoke at two events within the last week that barred media access.

The first was a Buckhead Young Republicans gathering, which one of your Insiders was told was a “closed, private event.” The second was a Hall County GOP meeting at a public park in Gainesville, where organizers booted WABE’s Rahul Bali from a speech advertised as “open to all.”

In both cases, campaign officials said the event organizers set the protocol. But Hall County GOP officials countered that Walker’s aides dictated the no-media policy.

The attempt to shield Walker comes as most polls show a razor-thin race between Walker and Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock– and an outlier gives Warnock a sizable edge. Warnock has held a series of campaign events with media access recently.

“Looks like this campaign isn’t even ready for two-hand touch football,” said Bob Trammell, a former Georgia House Democratic leader.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that National Republican Senatorial Committee staff are conducting “a rescue mission” and are set to trek to Georgia to help sharpen Walker’s campaign.

And on Monday, the Walker campaign announced an influx of experienced new staff to beef up his existing team, including seasoned Georgia politico Chip Lake, who becomes Senior Advisor for Operations and Gail Gitcho, a well known communications specialist.

Scott Paradise remains as campaign manager, while Mallory Blount has been promoted to Deputy Campaign Manager for Communications.


ENSLAVING YOU? So what did Herschel Walker say at the Hall County GOP meeting that his aides were so worried about? Much of the same of what we’ve heard at other events, with a few additions.

“I’m still standing,” he said to applause from the activists after he recounted predictions that his campaign would buckle before the primary.

Later, in a riff about independence and Juneteenth, Walker said, “We’re enslaving all of you right now, because the Democrats seem to want to control you, Republicans seem to want to treat you by being your servant.”

And he focused on unproven assertions that the coronavirus originated from a lab in China.

“They’re not telling you that this virus was created by China,” he said. “But do you know the whole world is not even talking about it? Because it seems like everybody want to play footsie with China. I’m running because I’m sick and tired of this.”

He added in a criticism of federal efforts to clean up dirty air and fight climate change, saying it‘s all for naught.

“But since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air. So when China gets our good air, their bad air gotta move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we’ve got to clean that back up.”


Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams, left, and Gov. Brian Kemp, right, speak at the Georgia School Boards Association conference in Savannah. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton).

Credit: Stephen B. Morton / AJC

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton / AJC

COPY KEMP. Over the weekend, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams outlined a plan to tap the state’s record surplus to give Georgians a $1 billion tax break.

“We have the resources to do what’s right for Georgia,” she said in an interview. “This isn’t about whether we have the money. This is about doing what’s right.”

That sounded a lot like Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year, when he signed into law a similar, $1.1 billion refund using state surplus money during the 2022 session.

It marks at least the fourth time this cycle that Abrams has taken a Kemp economic policy and pushed it even further.

She has promised to hike teacher pay by $11,000, topping the $5,000 raise Kemp gave educators. She has pledged to increase law enforcement pay for some officials by more than $10,000 after Kemp gave state employees a $5,000 bump.

And she challenged Kemp to commit to suspending the state gas tax a full year. The governor has extended the tax break through mid-August but hasn’t said yet whether he supports prolonging it until 2023.

Kemp’s campaign issued a standard retort suggesting that imitation is the best form of flattery.


BATTLE FOR LG. Our colleague Maya T. Prabhu has an early analysis of the lieutenant governor’s race between Democrat Charlie Bailey and Republican state Sen. Burt Jones.

Bailey, a former prosecutor, has begun to hammer on Jones’ role in supporting former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the Georgia election. Jones was a phony GOP elector for former Trump, who later endorsed Jones in his GOP primary.

The GOP elector scheme is now the subject of state and federal investigations.

Jones, in the meantime, released a new digital ad Monday morning replaying Bailey’s answer during an LG debate when he was asked if he had any policy differences with Stacey Abrams. “None that I can think of,” he said.


GRAHAM CRACKERS. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s spokesman has said Graham will fight a subpoena in the Fulton County special grand jury investigation into Donald Trump. The senator was summoned to appear based on phone calls he made to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during the 2020 recounts. But Graham has said his role as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee should shield him from coming.

A trio of legal experts write in The Washington Post that there’s no basis in law or the constitution to exempt Graham from cooperating.

“No one,” they write, “Including a senator or a president, is above the law.”


DUTY TO DEFEND. Speaking of lawyers, the Savannah Morning News’ Adam Van Brimmer has issued his verdict on state Sen. Jen Jordan’s declaration that she would not defend the state’s 6-week abortion ban in court if she’s elected state Attorney General.

The law is currently under review in federal court.

Jordan told reporters in June, “I would not defend it in court because I do not believe it is lawful.”

Although there are examples of other states’ attorneys general refusing to defend specific state laws, Van Brimmer writes:

Jordan's stance is disturbing. The legal hair splitting aside, the state attorney general should not get to pick and choose which laws to defend. Lawyers have a professional responsibility to provide the best possible defense to their clients, and often that requires arguing for someone or something in spite of flaws.

- The Savannah Morning-News


Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms set to join the Biden Administration

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NOT FOR LONG. Politico reports that there are signs former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms may not be expected to stay long at her new White House job.

The White House told Politico that Bottoms is classified as a “special government employee,” a designation for temporary workers who usually don’t stay beyond 130 days unless exceptions are made.

Bottoms’ salary is $50,000 less than that of her predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond. And although she serves as the director of the office of public engagement as he did, he also had the title “assistant to the president,” which she does not.



  • U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath is among those invited to the White House today for a celebration of the bipartisan gun law that President Joe Biden signed last month.
  • The Senate is back and working through confirmations, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s recent COVID diagnosis has again put the Democrats’ one-vote majority on ice.


HOT SEAT. The chief executive of Bryan County gun maker Daniel Defense has been asked to testify before a U.S. House committee investigating the gun industry’s role in recent mass shootings.

Last week, the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Marty Daniel asking him to appear at its July 20 hearing. A Daniel Defense AR-15 style assault rifle was used during the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers in May.

Daniel Defense did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether its CEO would accept the invitation or if the company had any other reaction to the letter. Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney sent similar letters to the chief executives at two other gun manufacturers: Smith & Wesson Brands and Sturm, Ruger & Co.

Daniel Defense is based in Black Creek in southeast Georgia. In addition to the Texas shooting, weapons made by the company were also found in the cache left behind by the man who carried out a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the worst in modern U.S. history.


JAN. 6 HEARING. The next hearing of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and is expected to focus on the far-right extremist groups that were supporting “stop the steal” efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

NBC News reported Sunday that a former spokesman for the Oath Keepers militia group, Jason Van Tatenhove, is expected to testify.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department recently released documents regarding its prosecution of Oath Keepers facing sedition charges related to the Capitol riot. In the documents, according to a CNN report, a search of defendant Thomas Caldwell’s home found a “death list” with the name of an unidentified Georgia elected official and his wife who had been the target of conspiracy theories.


TRUST US. Be sure to check out AJC editor-in-chief Kevin Riley’s appearance Sunday on CNN’s Reliable Sources, when he talked about the many ways we’re working to be your most trusted source of news and information.


SAD NEWS. Gov. Brian Kemp’s family announced over the weekend that Jeane Argo, the mother of First Lady Marty Kemp, died at the age of 92.

On Twitter, Mrs. Kemp called her mother, “a guiding presence in our family” and wrote, “Jeane Argo’s grandchildren affectionately called her by the nickname ‘Goose.’ Today, she spread her wings to fly to Heaven.”

Argo was also the mother-in-law of state Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, and the widow of former state Rep. Bob Argo, who represented Athens in the state Legislature from 1977 to 1986 and died in 2016.


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