Councilman Lee Morris, 73, doesn’t have to justify his Republican credentials. He has represented his party on District 3 of Fulton County, in Atlanta, for eight years, and has held public office in this city of half a million inhabitants, capital of the state of Georgia, for thirty years. And yet, asked if he supported the party’s candidate for the US Senate, Herschel Walker, in Tuesday’s legislative elections, he first laughs: the vote is secret. But, after a second of silence, he confesses: “Not all the candidates I voted for on my ballot were Republicans.”
After neither Walker nor his electoral opponent in Georgia, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, have obtained more than 50% of the votes in the US legislative elections, state regulations require them to face each other in a second round on December 6. Whoever wins can decide which party will control the national Senate and, with it, the legislative agenda for the next two years.
Both candidates, and both parties, have put a brave face on the bad weather and have described the second round as just one more small formality before the sure final victory. But out of the public eye, the closing ranks around Walker is not exactly hermetic. In private, it is not difficult to find Republican voters who admit that the selection of the former athlete as a candidate for the Senate, one of the candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has been a serious mistake that could cost his party the loss of the Senate.
A situation that has been repeated in several states. Candidates blessed by Trump in the party’s primaries but who have been defeated by their Democratic opponents even where they seemed to have very fertile ground, given the serious inflation throughout the country -8.2%- and the unpopularity of President Joe Biden, with a disapproval level of 54%. This has happened in Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman has prevailed over television celebrity Mehmet Oz, or in New York, where Kate Hochul will be the next governor after defeating Lee Zeldin.
Although the case of Walker seems to be especially prominent. Even his own party mates have distanced themselves from him. In one of the last campaign events, Republican Governor Brian Kemp flew over the sky of Georgia in a plane along with the rest of the conservative candidates for the different positions in contention. With the exception of Walker. He alleged “scheduling problems.”
On Tuesday, a not inconsiderable proportion of the Republican vote in this swing state seemed to have fled from the candidate for senator to have migrated to abstention or even to the Democrat Warnock. The numbers say it all: on Tuesday, Walker got 48.7% of the vote, or 1,927.419 million votes with 99% counted. In contrast, Kemp -very popular since he rejected Trump’s pressure in 2020 to declare Joseph Biden’s victory in that state invalid in the presidential elections- easily prevailed over his Democratic rival Stacey Abrams, with 2,109,122 votes , 53.4%: almost 200,000 votes and five percentage points more than his party partner.
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“Walker has done much worse in the polls than any other Republican candidate in Georgia,” says Bernard Fraga, a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. “Three, four points below a generic Republican candidate. That is what makes the Georgia Senate race close, in an election where the electorate in this state is generally leaning Republican.”
The 60-year-old aspiring senator has had a disastrous campaign, although at first glance he might seem like a suitable candidate. An African-American representative as the image of the Republicans in a state where the black minority is 30% higher than the average for the entire country, and he systematically votes in favor of the Democrats. And he was not just any candidate: he was a millionaire celebrity, with a company whose chicken products were distributed throughout the country. His conservative, anti-abortion, religious ideology was the dream of the conservative wing of the party. And he wore the seal of Trump, the idol of that branch of the formation.
Things started to go wrong soon. Walker appears to have difficulty concentrating and expressing himself at times, which he attributes in part to the aftermath of blows to the head sustained during his career. He has admitted that “I’m not that smart,” in contrast to his rival Warnock, a widely-erudited Baptist Reverend. He had also recognized mental problems years before, including a multiple personality disorder.
But there was more. During the campaign, accusations of a violent personality and mistreatment of his ex-wife have come to light. Two women have accused him of pressuring them to have abortions, while he has presented himself during the campaign as an ardent pro-lifer due to his religious convictions. His son, a conservative influencer, has accused him of hypocrisy.
At his rallies, he has described African-American absentee-father families as a “huge problem.” “If you have a child, even if you leave the mother, you cannot leave that child,” she has argued. But the mother of one of his own had to take him to court to pay alimony.
He has lied about his school record. About a non-existent military career. About his work in hospitals. And if the Republican leadership wanted him to attract votes from the African-American community, they were wrong. According to Fraga, the polls have not indicated any significant transfer of votes from this population group in favor of Walker. “He does not represent us African-American community nor is he qualified to represent Georgia in the US Senate,” says Reverend Arundel, a Protestant pastor who preaches in a congregation in the Sweet Auburn area, where Martin Luther King lived in Atlanta.
The city’s mayor, Democrat Andre Dickens, agrees. “Having him on the ballot allows Republicans to say they have an African-American representative, but Walker does not represent the black community. He doesn’t know anything about urban communities, or about small businesses, he hasn’t shown signs of leadership” he maintained on Monday in a talk with international journalists.
On election night, and before a mostly white audience, Walker claimed to have “good vibes” about the possibility of reaching Washington as a senator. A task that will force him to four more weeks of campaigning, and to his party, to multiply his investment and his support in it. At stake is the control of the legislative agenda and the political power of the last two years.
Those who want a Republican victory at all costs will vote for Walker, although in some cases they hold their noses. For others, in an increasingly divided and polarized country, there will be no problem, and they will happily vote for their candidate. Morris, who boasts of having support among all ideologies and communities – “some Democrats tell me that I am the only Republican they vote for,” he laughs – admits it. “Now the vote is tribal. People ask are you from my tribe or the other? And that’s what he takes into account.”
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