The Jolt: National Republicans going all-in for Herschel Walker

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution



Was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talking about Herschel Walker recently when he referred to “candidate quality” as he downplayed Republicans’ chances of retaking the Senate?

McConnell has never offered more detail about which party nominees he’s worried about, but he hosted a fundraiser Friday night in Louisville to boost the former UGA footballer’s campaign nonetheless.

Walker’s camp confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he joined McConnell in Kentucky for the event, which was planned weeks ago as a joint fundraiser for Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who is running for Senate in North Carolina.

McConnell wasn’t the only national Republican reinforcing his support for Walker over the weekend. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a potential 2024 candidate, trekked to Georgia on Saturday to mobilize conservatives behind Walker.

Cruz told dozens of activists at his Truth and Courage PAC’s summit that the nation has paid the political price after Georgia voters “tragically” elected Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in 2021.

The Texas Republican called Warnock a “perfectly nice fellow whose views are radical and extreme and wildly out of step with the people of Georgia.” Walker, meanwhile, is “truly an amazing man.”

Democratic National Committee spokesman Ammar Moussa pointed to Cruz’s votes to argue that Cruz is the real extremist in the Senate. “The last thing Georgians need is his extreme MAGA agenda in their state.”

Note that Cruz’s remarks echoed Republicans’ strategy nationally and locally not to attempt to demonize Warnock’s character — only his votes — after efforts to paint him as a monster during the 2020 campaign failed.

For more about the weekend events, check out our AJC colleague Shannon McCaffrey’s coverage of the Democratic Party of Georgia’s convention in Columbus and Greg Bluestein’s analysis of a busy Saturday.


OUT IN FORCE. More than 1,200 Georgia Democratic party activists, nominees, and bigwigs piled into the Columbus Convention and Trade Center on Saturday for one last confab before the sprint to the 2022 midterm elections.

Attendees heard from Stacey Abrams, governor hopeful and party standard bearer; U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, party chair; U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams and nominees up and down the ticket. Lieutenant governor nominee Charlie Bailey, attorney general nominee Jen Jordan, secretary of state hopeful Bee Nguyen, and all 14 Democrats in congressional races addressed the delegates to give them their pitches, too.

Speeches mostly focused on the diversity of Democrats’ statewide ticket, the gains they made in 2020, and their proposals focused on health care and education.

Warnock touted his recently passed bill that will cap the cost of insulin for Medicare recipients at $35 per month and hammered Republicans for blocking an effort to extend the cap to everyone with private insurance.

“I mean who would dare block it? Providing insulin for people who need insulin,” he asked. “Who does that and, I’m sorry, because I’m a pastor, but where do they go to church?”

And giving an indication of just how important Democrats see the abortion issue to be in the upcoming elections, Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood, spoke to delegates over video to urge Democrats to fight even harder for abortion rights.


Credit: Kent D. Johnson/AJC

Credit: Kent D. Johnson/AJC

NOT SO BAD. Some frank words from U.S. Rep. David Scott at the Democratic convention in Columbus on Saturday underscored shifting — and slightly improving — sentiments about the upcoming midterm elections.

“It looks like it’s not going to be as bad as some people think as far as the election,” Scott told the party’s delegates. “So we’re working hard to maintain our majority.”

Indeed, the Washington Post is among national outlets to report that Democrats across the country are growing increasingly optimistic the party can cut GOP gains in the House — and possibly maintain a slim path to holding the chamber in November.

One possible bright spot is in Georgia, where Democrats sounded a confident note about U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop’s chances against Republican Chris West in the slightly redrawn 2nd District spanning much of southwest Georgia.

But regardless of Bishop’s chances, Republicans are still poised to pick up at least one seat in the state after redistricting transformed U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s 6th Congressional District from a likely Democratic hold to be far more favorable to the GOP.


Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

ATLANTA IN 2024? Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens couldn’t hide his excitement about the capital city’s hunt for one of the nation’s premier political events Saturday.

“Let’s just say I like our odds,” he told delegates in Columbus of the city’s chances of landing the Democratic National Convention in 2024.

Atlanta made a bid for the convention in May and is battling three other cities — Chicago, Houston and New York City —for the chance to host. The party is expected to announce its decision by early 2023.


BERNIE FOR NIKKI. Politico recently revealed the top donors to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s political nonprofit operation, which is viewed by many as a precursor to a possible 2024 presidential run.

Among the deep-pocketed boosters cutting checks for Haley is Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who was also a top donor to former President Donald Trump.


GOP ON STUDENT DEBT. It seems almost certain that if Republicans win a majority in the U.S. House, they will look to trim or block President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 of student loan debt for millions of Americans.

Biden would be sure to veto any such measures, but stopping his student loan plan has become a talking point for conservatives who say it’s unfair to Americans who have either paid off their debts already or never had student loans to begin with.

Even before the White House made its plans public, Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, filed a bill in June that would make it illegal for Biden to cancel student loan debt.

Ferguson’s measure, called the Student Loan Accountability Act, hasn’t gone anywhere in the Democratically controlled Congress. But now that the president has unveiled his plan, many GOP lawmakers have pointed to it as a vehicle to rein Biden in.

Credit: Vino Wong /AJC

Credit: Vino Wong /AJC

Another Georgia lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, said he and others sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reminding her of comments she made during a weekly press conference last summer saying the president needs congressional approval prior to canceling student debt.

“I joined colleagues in sending a letter to the Speaker, asking if she would stick by her statement last year and stand up to Biden’s overreach,” Austin, R-Tifton, wrote in a newsletter to constituents.

“I also cosponsored the Student Loan Accountability Act to prohibit the cancellation of student loans, repeal the tax-free provisions formerly passed under the American Rescue Act, and prohibit the Treasury and IRS from sharing taxpayer information for the purpose of implementing debt cancellation.”


FISH FRY UNITY. The catfish, flags and pageant queens were out in full force Saturday for the annual 8th District GOP fish fry at the state fairgrounds in Perry.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue started the tradition, which has become one of the biggest events on the calendar for Republican office seekers and hand shakers.

Perdue was there to host, as usual, and he was joined, for the first time we’re aware of, by all three of the Republican Party’s nominees at the top of the midterm ticket-- Gov. Brian Kemp, Senate candidate Herschel Walker, and lieutenant governor hopeful Burt Jones.

Chris West, the party’s candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, was also on hand.


WEEK AHEAD. Look for U.S. Sen Raphael Warnock on the road this week on his “Working for Georgia” bus tour.

The senator will hold events in Albany, Americus and Columbus Monday, and then head to Newnan and Union City Tuesday, with additional events to be announced later in the week.


SEE YOU THERE. Join Greg Bluestein, Patricia Murphy and the rest of the AJC politics team on Tuesday, Sept. 6th for an evening with the AJC at the Georgia Aquarium.

Panels of AJC journalists will talk food, sports, and of course politics, with Greg and Patricia anchoring a conversation with Georgia newsmakers on the state of the state as the midterm elections race closer. Reserve your tickets at


TALK TO US. The AJC wants to hear from Georgia voters ahead of the midterm elections about which issues you want candidates to be talking about.

It’s not a scientific survey, but we’ll use responses from Georgia readers to help guide our coverage going forward. Find the survey here.

You could even win a $100 Kroger gift card.


AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to, and Tell us what you like – and what we could do better.