Should Trump Help Herschel Walker? Georgia Republicans Are Leery.

ATLANTA — The final weeks of the runoff campaign for Senate in Georgia will coincide with the first weeks of former President Donald J. Trump’s 2024 re-election bid. The overlap has left some Republicans with a lingering question: Will Mr. Trump visit the Peach State to campaign for Herschel Walker, the Republicans’ Senate nominee?

Mr. Trump held rallies for the candidates he endorsed in several key states ahead of the midterm elections, but he did not visit during the last few months of campaigning in Georgia, where most of the contenders he had endorsed lost in their primaries. His presidential announcement on Tuesday has led some in the Georgia G.O.P. to speculate, with much anxiety, on whether he would hit the campaign trail for Mr. Walker and, by extension, for himself.

“I hope President Trump has a great time at Mar-a-Lago. And I believe that he will stay there, and I believe that he should stay there,” said Cole Muzio, president of the Georgia-based conservative political advocacy group Frontline Policy Council.

A Trump rally in Georgia could further complicate an already difficult Senate campaign season for the party. Republicans have lost control of the chamber and much of the energy they could put toward supporting Mr. Walker in his runoff against Senator Raphael Warnock has gone instead toward an internal fight among Senate Republicans in Washington — namely, between Senators Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell — over how this cycle was managed.

Also weighing on Republicans’ minds are Georgia’s changing demographics, which have put the state in play for both parties. The former president’s presence is a guaranteed animating force for Georgia’s ultraconservative voters, whom Mr. Walker will need to turn out en masse on Dec. 6. But it could also alienate swing voters and moderates in Atlanta’s suburbs who were turned off by the candidate’s scant political experience and myriad personal scandals.

For that reason, many Georgia Republicans have long tried to keep Mr. Trump at bay, lest his rhetoric hurt their prospects of recapturing a Senate seat.

“In an ideal world, he would have waited until after the runoff,” said Stephen Lawson, a Republican consultant in Georgia who leads Mr. Walker’s PAC and helped manage Kelly Loeffler’s 2020 Senate campaign.

Mr. Trump has already begun fund-raising for Mr. Walker, though his emailed solicitations to supporters on Mr. Walker’s behalf now link to his own 2024 campaign fund-raising site. But on Tuesday night in his speech announcing his presidential run, Mr. Trump implored Republicans to support Mr. Walker, calling him “a fabulous human being who loves our country.”

“He was an incredible athlete. He’ll be an even better senator,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Mr. Walker’s fame as a University of Georgia football player. “Get out and vote for Herschel Walker.”

Democrats immediately seized on Mr. Trump’s announcement, with allies of Mr. Warnock using the occasion to raise money for his runoff campaign.

“We know that he is well practiced in the politics of division,” Mr. Warnock said Tuesday of Mr. Trump. “And my opponent is his acolyte.”

Mr. Walker rarely names Mr. Trump in his campaign speeches and ads, focusing instead on condemning Mr. Warnock and President Biden. A spokesman for Mr. Walker did not respond to a request for comment.

Moreover, two of the former president’s biggest foes in the state, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, now are among its most popular figures. Both men decisively defeated challengers endorsed by Mr. Trump during the primary and went on to secure resounding victories on Election Day.

Mr. Walker’s allies have been louder in their calls for Mr. Kemp to join him on the campaign trail than they have for the former president, arguing that the governor’s strong performance on Nov. 8 would bolster Mr. Walker’s standing among the more than 200,000 voters who cast ballots to re-elect Mr. Kemp but did not vote for Mr. Walker.

Mr. Muzio, for one, said he would prefer that Mr. Walker receive help from both Mr. Kemp and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Still, some Republicans in the state see Mr. Trump as a figure who could re-energize G.O.P. voters who were demoralized by last Tuesday’s results and may be reluctant to turn back out in December.

Salleigh Grubbs, chairwoman of the Cobb County Republican Party, said she thought Mr. Trump would inspire his supporters to vote. But she also acknowledged the number of conservative voters who might be turned off by his visit.

“There are people that never liked Trump from the very beginning,” she said. “They enjoyed living in his policies, but they just didn’t like his personality. And I say, his personality is what made his policies effective.”


Related posts