ATLANTA — It’s the buzz of DawgNation and beyond. One of the most revered, bigger-than-life personalities of Georgia in the past 40 years is now shaking up the political field.
Former University of Georgia Bulldog football legend and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, 59, officially entered the race for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. The seat is currently held by the Reverend Rafael Warnock.
The big question many people are asking is if Walker can move beyond his huge name recognition and goodwill, and prove he has what it takes to be a U.S. Senator. As it is, he is a beloved giant in Georgia.
Walker, who has been living in Texas, is headed back to Georgia, and entering the U.S. Senate race as a Republican, with the support of his friend of 40 years, Former President Donald Trump.
“He has the strength of his name recognition, and a lot of people would be willing to vote for the person who was their football hero 40 years ago,” said Emory University Political Science Professor Andra Gillespie Tuesday.
“But he still has a lot of ground to cover with younger voters, who might not be as well versed with his football glory days, and he also has to overcome the challenge of being an inexperienced candidate," she added. "And so, while he has the support of President Trump, that may not be enough to overcome the weaknesses that he brings to the table as a novice candidate."
Gillespie said that as much as Georgians like Walker, there is no way to predict whether they will see him as Senate material.
“He comes in with a lot of personal goodwill, but you then have to translate that and channel that into a strong, political organization,” Gillespie said. “And so, goodwill isn’t enough to put together the apparatus that it’s going to take to turn out voters…. Has he done his homework, can he provide a really cogent, thoughtful, detailed answer to explain how he would vote and what he would do to address the problems that are facing our country, which are legion, today?”
Three Republicans are already in Georgia's U.S. Senate primary race: Kelvin King, Latham Saddler, and Gary Black, Georgia’s Agriculture Commissioner.
If Walker can win the GOP primary, next year, he would likely face the incumbent Democrat, Warnock, in the general election in November 2022.
The moderator of NBC's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, said in an interview with 11Alive that GOP leaders in Washington are, so far, not convinced Walker could beat Warnock, if Walker makes it past the primary.
“There’s a whole Republican world in Washington that is petrified of Herschel Walker’s candidacy in the Senate race,” Todd said. “I think Herschel is a disaster for the GOP, but everybody’s afraid to tell Trump to his face.”
Walker has been getting favorable exposure in conservative media.
And he will have to address personal issues, such as allegations of domestic troubles, and also his treatment for mental illness, which he has openly discussed.
“He’s going to have to become well-versed with the challenges that the state is facing, he’s going to have to get to know prominent Republicans here in the state, and secure their endorsements, in addition to having President Trump’s endorsement, and it’s going to take a lot of work,” Gillespie said. “So he can’t just rest on the laurels of having won the Heisman Trophy decades ago, and ride that wave and Donald Trump’s endorsement into the primary. There’s work to be done.”