MACON, Ga. ― When Herschel Walker participates in nationally televised interviews, he’s often joined by one or two Republican senators who get as much ― and occasionally even more ― speaking time as the candidate who’s actually running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.
Sometimes it seems like Walker can barely get a word in as loquacious GOP senators like Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rick Scott (Fla.) dominate the interview, which is almost always conducted by friendly hosts on Fox News, about the latest in the Georgia Senate race, which is facing a Tuesday runoff.
Since October, Walker has appeared on Fox News with help from a GOP senator at least four times. Both Graham and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) appeared with Walker at a “town hall” hosted by Sean Hannity on Oct. 3. The joint appearances have continued during the runoff stage. Graham appeared alongside him on Nov. 11, and Cruz and Graham flanked him on Nov. 22.
The Hannity appearance demonstrates how the other senators can overshadow Walker. Hannity addressed the first question to Graham, who delivered a minute-long answer that mostly functioned as a pitch for conservative viewers to donate to Walker’s campaign. The second question, with a lengthy lead-up from Hannity, was aimed at Cruz. The Texan spoke for another minute. Hannity then spoke about the importance of Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, backing Walker, and finally he asked Walker about its value.
Finally, after 5 minutes and 30 seconds, when he had done little more than nod, Walker spoke. “I view that endorsement as very important,” he said at the start of a 30-second answer. Hannity proceeded to direct the next question to Graham.
Other conservatives have helped out as well: Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat turned independent who has backed a host of conservatives in this year’s elections, offered her endorsement on a Nov. 4 episode of Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.
Not all of Walker’s appearances are joint, however. He’s made traditional solo appearances on a host of other Fox News shows during the same period.
Democrats argue the buddy system Republicans deploy for Walker’s interviews drives home their argument that the former football star, who won the GOP nomination over more experienced politicians largely on the strength of his celebrity as a former college football and NFL star and the backing of former President Donald Trump, is unprepared and unserious. Democrats, including incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, have increasingly argued that Walker isn’t up to the job.
“In the closing days of his campaign, Herschel Walker still refuses to answer Georgians’ questions about his pattern of lies and violent conduct, instead relying on the likes of Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz to do the talking for him,” said Dan Gottlieb, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Walker has proven again and again that he is not fit to serve Georgia in the U.S. Senate.”
The all-out GOP effort to get Walker across the finish line in the runoff against Warnock isn’t exactly surprising. The former NFL player is a first-time political candidate with a penchant for making comments that range from massively misleading to utterly bizarre. (A recent one involved something about vampires and werewolves.)
But few candidates in recent memory have gotten as much help on air and off as Walker. He’s reportedly gotten lessons from GOP senators on policy and has kept in touch regularly with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
“We’re trying to help him. Other people have come in to help Warnock. It’s a team sport, right?” Graham told HuffPost when asked about his many joint appearances with Walker on Hannity’s cable program.
Scott said that holding Democrats to a narrow 50-50 Senate majority was a priority.
“I think a 50-50 Senate is better than a 51-49 Senate, so I think we need to do everything we can to make sure he wins,” he added.
I’d say they are trying to limit his exposure, but he’s still out there ad-libbing almost every single day.Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)
Though not denying the other senators are helping Walker, a top GOP Senate operative noted their presence also drives home the national stakes of the election. Republicans were counting on having senators from other states show the national importance of backing Walker even as he continues to have low favorability numbers in polling. Though control of the Senate is no longer up for grabs after the midterm election results so far, having a 51-seat majority will give Democrats total control over committees, allowing them to unilaterally issue subpoenas and more quickly move nominees through the Senate confirmation process.
Walker’s habit of relying on assistance from GOP senators on TV hasn’t gone unnoticed by Democratic lawmakers and campaign operatives, who argued that it provided even more evidence of Walker’s lack of preparedness for the job.
“Usually when you say ‘not ready for prime time,’ it’s a figure of speech,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said. “But it’s literally true. He’s not ready for prime time. He can’t handle the basics of his job and needs to have two U.S. senators flanking him in case there’s a difficult question.”
A new 60-second ad from the Warnock campaign seeks to drive home this message, showing a number of Georgians reacting to some of Walker’s more outlandish comments, including the riff on vampires and werewolves. One of the Georgians delivers a final verdict: “Let’s call that what it is. It is embarrassing.”
Former President Barack Obama, appearing on Warnock’s behalf in Atlanta on Thursday, delivered his own riff on Walker’s thoughts on supernatural creatures.
“Mr. Walker has been talking about issues that are of great importance to the people of Georgia, like whether it’s better to be a vampire or a werewolf,” Obama said. “This is a debate that I must confess I once had myself — when I was 7.”
Obama’s appearance highlights how Democrats have also treated the runoff as a team sport, even if those helping out Warnock have been lower-profile: Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Rep.-elect Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), NARAL President Mini Timmaraju and Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson have all campaigned for Warnock or are expected to before Tuesday.
Notably, Warnock demurred last month when HuffPost asked if he wanted President Joe Biden, whose approval rating in the state remains low, to campaign for him.
The closest Biden has come to helping out Warnock was an appearance Friday at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers phone bank in Boston, a mere 946 miles to the north of Atlanta. But there, he was on message in portraying Walker as an unacceptable choice.
“One doesn’t deserve to be in the United States Senate based on his veracity and what he said and what he hadn’t said,” Biden said. The other man, he said “is a truly decent, honorable guy.
Warnock’s campaign has generally avoided drawing any direct link between Walker’s football career and his intelligence, but rank-and-file Democrats in the Peach State have not been as diplomatic.
“My husband, David, played football,” Elaine Lucas, a county commissioner, joked while appearing before Warnock at an event in Macon in November. “He doesn’t talk like Herschel. If he came in saying some of the stuff Herschel said, I would be worried.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), meanwhile, suggested Republican senators boosting Walker on television may have more to do with their own aspirations rather than simply helping a fellow Republican win office.
“I’d say they are trying to limit his exposure, but he’s still out there ad-libbing almost every single day,” Murphy said. “They don’t seem terribly concerned about his tendency to say outrageous things. Part of me thinks it’s a strategy to have him talk less, but part of me thinks it might just be a way for my colleagues to get on TV more.”