- Former NFL player Herschel Walker has emerged as a GOP frontrunner in the Georgia US Senate race.
- McConnell told Politico he “had a good conversation” with Walker about his Senate bid.
- “I think there’s every indication he’s going to be a good candidate,” McConnell said of Walker.
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While some Republicans have questioned whether former NFL player Herschel Walker can defeat Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in the Georgia Senate race next year, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky appears to have warmed up to the Heisman Trophy winner’s candidacy.
This past summer, Politico wrote that the longtime Republican leader saw the former football standout’s “complicated” personal history as “a vulnerability” in regaining control of the Senate; the publication referenced an Associated Press report that detailed threats that Walker allegedly made to his ex-wife and questions surrounding his business dealings.
Walker, who has had a decadeslong friendship with former President Donald Trump, was strongly encouraged by the former president to jump into the race – which he did last month.
And McConnell, who earlier this year suggested he would oppose unelectable Trump-backed candidates, recently praised Walker.
“There are some things written that indicate he’s had some challenges in his life. On the other hand, the good news is, he’s made several impressive performances on national television. His whole team is the same team around [former Sen.] Johnny Isakson,” McConnell told Politico this week. “He’s called me; we had a good conversation. I think there’s every indication he’s going to be a good candidate.”
Isakson, a longtime Peach State lawmaker, held the Senate seat that Warnock now occupies from 2005 to 2019 before stepping down for health reasons.
Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Republican Kelly Loeffler to the Senate seat, who held it until losing to Warnock in the January runoff election, which also saw Democrat Jon Ossoff unseat GOP Sen. David Perdue. Warnock was elected to fill the remainder of Isakson’s term, which will expire in January 2023.
Trump on Saturday will appear with Walker at a political rally in Georgia, and in the evenly divided Senate, a GOP net gain of one seat in the upper chamber would give the party majority control, which is McConnell’s ultimate goal.
But internal issues have also come into play between the two Republican leaders.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump was actively speaking with Republican senators and allies in an effort to remove McConnell as GOP leader, but with unwavering support in his caucus, the effort is highly unlikely to succeed.
The two men have yet to patch up their falling out over McConnell’s sharp criticism of the former president’s conduct on the day of the Capitol insurrection. However, as McConnell looks to 2022 and Trump continues to flirt with a 2024 bid, the men will invariably need to work with each other at some point in the future.
The Kentucky senator, who led the caucus when the party lost what were seen as winnable races in Nevada, Delaware, Missouri, and Indiana in the 2010 and 2012 cycles, has not noticed the type of pushback among party members that occurred with some controversial candidates in years past.
“I don’t see Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin, or Richard Mourdock out there,” McConnell told Politico, referring to the GOP Senate nominees who were defeated in those high-profile races. “I don’t think there’s much chance we’re going to end up with a nominee who can’t win in November.”
Despite the questions surrounding Walker’s candidacy, his entry into the race has given the GOP its highest-profile candidate to date in what will be one of the country’s marquee Senate races.
The other Republicans in the race include state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and two military veterans: Latham Saddler and Kelvin King.