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Herschel Walker is a very flawed candidate. Could he still win?

A new poll reinforces a familiar problem for the GOP in the final Senate race this year

Herschel Walker delivers remarks during his bus tour in Canton, Ga., on Nov. 10. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
4 min

The (sort of) good news for Herschel Walker in a new CNN poll is that he’s just outside the margin of error in his Tuesday runoff with Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) in Georgia. The poll shows Warnock at 52 percent and Walker at 48 percent in a Senate race that will decide whether Democrats have a 50-50 majority or a 51-49 majority.

The bad news is just about everything else in the poll. Indeed, if Walker is able to pull it off — which remains a possibility, for reasons we’ll get to — it will be despite himself and his highly flawed candidacy.

The poll confirms what others have: that like many GOP Senate candidates this year, voters simply don’t like him very much. What’s more, they clearly don’t see him as a particularly capable statesman.

On Dec. 6 Georgia voters will decide who represents them in the Senate between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican Herschel Walker. (Video: Michael Cadenhead/The Washington Post)

While the head-to-head is close, a number of other measures reinforce that many people who might vote for Walker will be doing so because of partisanship, while holding their noses. To wit:

  • While Warnock’s image rating among likely voters is in net-positive territory, 50 percent favorable to 45 percent unfavorable, Walker is double digits underwater: 39-52.
  • When asked which candidate is better qualified, voters said Warnock by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, 52 percent to 27 percent. The gap is particularly stark among independents, who side with Warnock 61 percent to 13 percent on this measure. And while 96 percent of Democrats say Warnock is better qualified, only 57 percent of Republicans say the same of Walker.
  • When asked which candidate has better judgment, likely voters again pick Warnock by a wide margin, 50 percent to 33 percent. While 95 percent of Democrats say Warnock’s judgment is better, just 68 percent of Republican are convinced Walker’s is.
  • The gaps are closer on who can more effectively represent Georgia. But among independents, Warnock leads 61 percent to 27 percent on that measure.
  • Perhaps the most brutal measure is when voters were asked whether Walker is trustworthy. Independents said he is not (72 percent to 26 percent), and even 1 in 5 Republicans (19 percent) said he’s not. (A clear majority of independents say Warnock is trustworthy — 57 percent — and only 4 percent of Democrats disagree.)
  • While 83 percent of Warnock voters say their vote is mostly about supporting him, just 52 percent say the same of Walker. Nearly half of Walker voters, 47 percent, say their bigger motivation is opposing Warnock.

This is one poll, but it confirms and adds detail to many other high-quality surveys of this race. Another post-Election Day poll of the runoff from AARP also showed Warnock with a better net image rating (plus-four to Walker’s minus-six). And a pre-election poll from the New York Times and Siena College showed Warnock’s net image in positive territory and Walker’s double-digits negative (39 percent to 54 percent).

And it’s a near carbon copy of the big statewide races that Republicans lost in several other swing states. Voters just didn’t like the GOP candidates — for the Senate and governor in Pennsylvania, for Michigan governor, and for the Senate in both Arizona and New Hampshire, among others.

That latter, pre-election Georgia poll also asked about which candidate was more honest and trustworthy, and like the new CNN poll it showed a big gap: 49 percent chose Warnock, 37 percent Walker. Just 68 percent of Republicans said Walker was superior on that measure.

Breaking down the Georgia Senate runoff

But also consider something else that poll showed. When asked about which party voters preferred to control the Senate, Georgians chose the GOP by a 49 percent to 45 percent margin. That’s in line with how the state voted more broadly on Election Day, electing Republicans to every statewide office except the Senate. Excluding Walker, statewide GOP candidates like Gov. Brian Kemp (R) won by an average of more than seven points. That’s worth keeping in mind ahead of Tuesday.

(Of course, most of those statewide GOP candidates turned aside Trump-backed primary challengers, leaving the GOP with a stronger ticket in the process.)

And that’s why Walker would seem to have a shot: He’s a warm body with an “R” next to his name. Many conservative-leaning voters who obviously don’t like him, nor have much regard for his ability to execute the duties of a senator, will vote for him regardless. The CNN poll asked whether voters emphasized a candidate’s integrity or issue positions more, and the result was telling: While 60 percent of Democrats emphasized integrity more, 75 percent of Republicans preferred to focus on the issues.

The fundamentals would seem to be there for Walker to possibly get across the finish line. And if he can’t, it will be pretty obvious that the culprit was a very flawed, Trump-backed GOP candidate — again.