The Jolt: National Republicans bolster Herschel Walker with Senate control on the line

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Josh Brice (right), a Gainesville resident, meets Herschel Walker (middle), while Fletcher Law (right), a Gainesville resident, waits in line during a meet and greet event on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at Longstreet Cafe in Gainesville, Georgia. Fox & Friends broadcasted live from the restaurant during which co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed Walker. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Josh Brice (right), a Gainesville resident, meets Herschel Walker (middle), while Fletcher Law (right), a Gainesville resident, waits in line during a meet and greet event on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at Longstreet Cafe in Gainesville, Georgia. Fox & Friends broadcasted live from the restaurant during which co-host Brian Kilmeade interviewed Walker. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Republicans need a net gain of just one Senate seat to take control of the chamber in a political climate that favors the GOP. So why is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lowering expectations of a flip?

The Kentucky Republican described “candidate quality” as an important factor why the Senate might not switch hands in November, triggering fresh criticism from Donald Trump and other party figures.

“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” he said in Florence, Kentucky last week.

The McConnell-backed Senate Leadership Fund is now ramping up its efforts to bolster nominees in Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The group has pumped $37 million into Georgia’s race already to boost former football star Herschel Walker, who trails U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in most polls. Warnock also has a decisive financial edge.

After a campaign event Sunday, Walker told us he was unfazed by McConnell’s “candidate quality” remarks as he predicted victory.

Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker takes a selfie at a Republican Jewish Coalition event on Aug. 21, 2022 in Sandy Springs.

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“I don’t ever worry about stuff like that,” said Walker. “When I got into this race, I got in this race to win it for the people. I said, ‘Guys, I’m here for the people of Georgia.’ I’m not worried about what people say.”

Walker’s remarks came after an event with the Republican Jewish Committee at a movie theater in the heart of Sandy Springs, a formerly Republican-leaning area that has tilted Democratic in recent elections.

“I’m going into areas that maybe Republicans didn’t go in,” he said after the event. “I don’t worry about where they’re supposed to go and where they’re not supposed to go,” he said.


MIDDLE EAST POLITICS. At the Republican Jewish Committee event, Herschel Walker drew applause for his outspoken opposition to a revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned shortly after he was elected.

Walker predicted revisiting the deal, in which Iran agreed to arms limits in exchange for sanctions relief, would backfire on the U.S. by emboldening Iran-- and he panned U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock for not criticizing the pact.

“That’s what I don’t get. You’re going to give money to terrorists to be nice to you? He never read the definition of a terrorist, has he? They don’t like you. They like nothing about you.”

He also repeated his opposition to the new federal climate change, tax and healthcare law, which he described as wasteful spending.

“They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out. But they’re not. Because a lot of money it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”

The climate portion of the measure includes billions of dollars in incentives to boost the electric vehicle industry, encourage renewable energy, and spends $150 million per year on “urban forests,” a plan to plant trees in cities like Atlanta where rapid development has stripped out established trees and increased flooding for residents.


KEMP COURT WINS. A pair of federal rulings amounted to big victories for Gov. Brian Kemp at a crucial time for his reelection campaign.

Or, as the Republican put it, rebuffed attempts by Democrats to “claw back good policy for partisan politics.”

First, a federal judge declined Friday to block a provision in Georgia’s new election law that prohibits distributing food and drinks to voters waiting in line at polling locations.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee concluded it was too close to the November election to make a change. But his 74-page order indicated part of the ban may be overturned later.

Hours later, a federal judge gave the go-ahead for Kemp to proceed with his plans to narrowly expand Medicaid with work and engagement requirements, reversing the Biden administration’s attempt to block the policy.

While Stacey Abrams’ campaign called it an “expensive halfway measure” to avoid a full-scale expansion of Medicaid, Kemp offered another reminder that he remains opposed to expanding Medicaid in a second term.

He said the ruling lets stand his plan to “better serve Georgians than a one-size-fits all Medicaid expansion.”


GRAHAM ON HOLD. A panel of federal appeals court judges ruled Sunday to delay U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s testimony before a Fulton County special grand jury until a judge can decide what kinds of questions he can be asked.

Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, had initially been scheduled to testify on Tuesday.

Graham has tried to quash his subpoena to testify altogether, arguing that the “Speech or Debate” clause in the Constitution shields him from testifying about anything related to his legislative business, the AJC’s Tamar Hallerman reported.


BIG NAMES FOR SCHOOLS. Two national educational figures from across the political aisle are backing the Democrat in Georgia’s general election for state school superintendent, the AJC’s Ty Tagami reports.

Former state Rep. Alisha Thomas Searcy, who is trying to unseat two-term GOP incumbent Richard Woods, will hold a fundraising event on Zoom Monday evening. The guests of honor: Arne Duncan and Roderick Paige.

Duncan was education secretary for Barack Obama. Paige served in that role for George W. Bush.

Paige implemented the No Child Left Behind Act for Bush, ushering in an era of mandatory state testing. Duncan oversaw federal spending on schools after the Great Recession. (Georgia took $4 billion in competitive grants after pledging to update learning standards and data systems and to raise achievement at lower-performing schools.)

Thomas Searcy said that Duncan, as secretary, appointed her to a committee that considered national educational standards back when there was talk of a “common core” for schools. She doesn’t remember how she connected with Paige, but said the Republican and his wife are longtime friends.

“These are individuals that I can call on for policy advice and support,” she said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday.

Woods, meanwhile, has maintained close ties with Gov. Brian Kemp, frequently mentioning their collaboration on school initiatives. On Thursday, in his first face-to-face election forum with Thomas Searcy this year, he mentioned reducing the number of state Milestones tests and teacher evaluations.


GROUND GAME. The Republican National Committee held a grand opening for its new Georgia Victory field office in Columbus on Saturday. The event brought out a sizable crowd, along with 2nd District GOP nominee Chris West and state Sen. Randy Robertson, among others.

And on Sunday, Democrats had a huge turnout in Gwinnett County for the grand opening of their “Georgia Votes” coordinated campaign field office.

State Reps. Sam Park, Dewey McClain, Shelly Hutchinson, and state Sens. Michelle Au and William Boddie, and many others turned out to cut the ribbon for the Democrats’ the all-important Gwinnett turnout operation.


DEFENDING KING. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King, maintains an active presence on social media and frequently uses her platform to defend her father’s civil rights legacy.

On Saturday, she took U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to task, who, as part of her continued criticism of the FBI for its search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, recently invoked Dr. King.

“The FBI’s political targeting of President Trump is the same type of thing they did to MLK,” Greene had written on Twitter, alluding to the FBI’s monitoring of King, which was used to discredit his activism.

Bernice King replied within hours, telling her roughly 800,000 Twitter followers, “This is a really unfortunate, untrue, and deliberately misaligning tweet,” she wrote.

“I earnestly wish that people would stop appropriating my father in support of actions and actors that he clearly would not endorse. He was assassinated for working for justice and for a better humanity.”


COPS FOR CARR. In endorsement news, the Police Benevolent Association has endorsed Attorney General Chris Carr for reelection this November.


CHANGING CITIES. Tom Gehl, longtime government affairs director for the Georgia Municipal Association, is not moving cities, but he is moving on from the association that represents Georgia’s cities.

Gehl has created Civic Forward Strategies, which he says will be “centered in political reality, upholding the highest ethical standards.”


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