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Herschel Walker files to run for Senate in Georgia

CNN logo CNN 8/24/2021 By Alex Rogers, CNN
Herschel Walker who is smiling and looking at the camera: Closeup portrait of former Georgia player Herschel Walker at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. © Kevin Liles/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images Closeup portrait of former Georgia player Herschel Walker at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Herschel Walker, the former University of Georgia football star, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday to run for Senate in Georgia, months after former President Donald Trump publicly encouraged his longtime friend to campaign for the key seat.

Walker is expected to be the early front-runner in the primary if he gets the backing of Trump, the most influential Republican in the party.

"This could be the most important filing for the most important race in the country," said Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer and former US ambassador to Luxembourg in the Trump administration. "It is the signal Georgia Republicans have been waiting on and the one the Democratic Senatorial Committee feared most."

"Herschel Walker understands the predicament our country is now in and the importance of those who love this country to step forward and do what it takes to save it," Evans added.

But some GOP strategists and lawmakers from Georgia to Washington, DC, are deeply worried about Walker's potential campaign, fearing that Walker could cost the GOP a winnable seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Three Republican candidates -- Georgia agriculture commissioner Gary Black, construction firm owner Kelvin King and former Trump national security official Latham Saddler -- have already announced their campaigns.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has even suggested to allies that former Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler should take another look at running again, after their narrow losses in January flipped the Senate to Democratic control. McConnell met this summer with Loeffler and Perdue.

Some Republicans were alarmed by a recent Associated Press report detailing Walker's past, including that he threatened violence against his ex-wife. Walker has been open about his diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder. Until recently, Walker also lived in Texas and did not have a political operation in Georgia.

Eric Tanenblatt, a veteran Georgia GOP operative, said he anticipates a "spirited primary" since there are already "several strong and capable candidates." Walker, he said, will need to convince voters he is a "viable candidate" even though he's well known.

"It appears the speculation is over and Herschel Walker appears to be in the race," Tanenblatt said. "His candidacy is further evidence that Republicans believe they have a real opportunity to retake the Senate seat."

The race against Warnock could decide the Senate. Democrats in the upper chamber have the slimmest of majorities -- 50-50 -- held only by Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote. Warnock beat Loeffler in 2020 by two points.

"Walker's entrance into Georgia's chaotic GOP Senate primary is the nightmare scenario that Republicans have spent the entire cycle trying to avoid," said Georgia Democratic party spokesman Dan Gottlieb. "By the end of this long, divisive, and expensive intra-party fight, it'll be clear that none of these candidates are focused on the issues that matter most to Georgians."

But Walker has a long relationship with the former President going back to 1984, when Trump -- the then-owner of the United States Football League's New Jersey Generals -- gave the former Heisman trophy-winning running back a contract extension.

They stayed in touch; Donald Trump Jr. recounts in his book "Triggered" that he went to Disney World when he was 6 with Walker's family, and Walker would visit the Trumps at their house in Greenwich, Connecticut. Walker later appeared on NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice" with Trump and encouraged his 2016 and 2020 presidential bids.

In December, Walker tweeted a video supporting Trump's effort to overturn his loss and subvert the will of the electorate. Trump responded, "Herschel is speaking the truth!"

This story has been updated with additional details Tuesday.


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