Herschel Walker, a football legend in Georgia, was drafted to run for the U.S. Senate by former president Donald Trump. He easily won the Republican nomination last spring, but during the general election, he has endured a tumultuous campaign filled with verbal gaffes and personal scandals in his first foray into politics, as he tries to unseat Democratic Sen. Raphael G. Warnock.
Throughout the campaign, Walker, has been accused of exaggerating his resume, his ex-wife claimed he once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her, and one of his sons called his entire campaign “a lie.” In the final month of the race, Walker — who ran as a fierce opponent of abortion rights — was under fire after two former girlfriends claimed he had pressured them to terminate their pregnancies.
Still, he got enough support from Republican voters to force a runoff with Warnock, after neither got a majority of the vote, as required by state law. On Tuesday, voters will decide which of the two men will represent Georgia in the Senate for the next six years.
Walker made his faith a central part of his pitch to voters, often talking to voters about how he was “redeemed by the grace of God.”
Georgia Senate runoff
Walker, 60, is a Georgia native who was raised in rural Johnson County. He first caught the attention of many in Georgia in the 1980s, while a running back for the University of Georgia’s football team. In 1982, he received the Heisman Trophy, the highest honor in college football. He played in the NFL from 1986 to 1997, before retiring from the Dallas Cowboys.
During retirement, Walker launched Renaissance Man Food Services, which he claimed was one of the largest minority-owned meat processors in the nation. But during a deposition in a lawsuit involving the company, Walker admitted he had at times greatly exaggerated the scale of the operation.
During his Senate campaign, Walker was repeatedly forced to retract some of his claims.
Early on in the campaign, Walker’s team claimed that he had graduated in the top 1 percent of his class at the University of Georgia, only for campaign officials to later acknowledge he had not in fact graduated at all. Walker has also said he worked in law enforcement, a claim that was debunked.
Walker has said he’s struggled with dissociative identity disorder. He has talked about it interviews, and in 2008, he wrote a book that revealed more about his bouts with mental illness.
“The logical side of me knew that what I was thinking of doing to this man — murdering him for messing up my schedule — wasn’t a viable alternative,” Walker wrote about someone who was supposed to deliver a car he had ordered but instead was ducking his calls. “But another side of me was so angry that all I could think was how satisfying it would feel to step out of the car, pull out the gun, slip off the safety, and squeeze the trigger.”
He wrote that his rage dissipated when he saw a sticker on the man’s truck saying, “Smile, Jesus loves you.”
Walker has said he is a Christian who has been “redeemed by the grace of God,” a message that has been embraced by White evangelical voters who have rallied around his candidacy. They say they believe he will be a reliable vote against abortion and will champion their conservative values.
But after the Daily Beast published a story about one of the women who said Walker had pressured to have an abortion, Walker’s adult son, Christian, criticized his father on social media, saying the former football star threatened him and his mother with violence that forced them to move multiple times.
Walker initially denied knowing the woman, who kept her identity hidden but provided a receipt and a copy of a canceled check signed by him. The woman later revealed that he was the mother of one of his children; she said Walker also pressured her to have a second abortion, but she opted to continue the pregnancy. Walker eventually acknowledged sending the woman money but insists he didn’t know it was for an abortion.
In Walker’s brash style and frequent exaggerations, many observers saw parallels with his political ally Trump. It was only after Trump’s goading that Walker, who had been living in Texas, changed his voter registration to a home in Atlanta’s tony Buckhead neighborhood and filed paperwork to run for Senate in his native state.
Trump had hoped that Walker’s fame as a football legend would translate to votes. But Walker has not made inroads, especially among Black Georgians, instead catering his campaign to Trump’s wing of the Republican Party. The former president has loomed over Walker’s candidacy, which may have hurt him among independents he’d need to win the runoff.
Warnock’s campaign released an ad during the runoff focused on Walker’s connection to Trump. It shows a clip of the former president giving a speech at Mar-a-Lago in Florida where he urges people to “get out and vote for Herschel.”
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.
The 2022 Midterm Elections
Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.
What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.