EXCLUSIVE – Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker hauled in $3.3 million in fundraising on the first day of his Senate runoff campaign with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Walker’s advisers shared first with Fox News on Thursday.
Walker, who finished roughly 35,000 votes behind Warnock out of nearly 4 million cast in the Senate election in the battleground state of Georgia, is returning to the campaign trail on Thursday, teaming up with conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at a rally in Canton, a small city about 40 miles north of Atlanta. Walker’s campaign tells Fox News that it plans to be back up on television with an ad later this week.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office announced on Wednesday that the Senate election was headed to a runoff, since no candidate received over 50% of the vote. According to the latest unofficial and incomplete returns, Warnock was at 49.4%, Walker at 48.5%, and Libertarian Party nominee Chase Oliver at 2.1%.
Under Georgia law, if no candidate tops 50% of the vote in the general election, the two top vote getters face off in a runoff, which this cycle is being held four weeks later on Dec. 6.
Warnock, who’s the minister at Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, narrowly edged Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffer in Georgia’s twin Jan. 5, 2021 Senate runoff elections. His victory along with now-Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff’s razor-thin win over GOP Sen. David Perdue gave the Democrats the Senate majority.
A Walker campaign source tells Fox News that they plan to hold rallies in large population areas where turnout happens, with the aim to energize supporters of former President Donald Trump, “soft Republicans” and independents to vote in the runoff contest.
The source said that it would make sense for Trump and for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s also extremely popular with conservatives nationwide, to stump with Walker in Georgia in the weeks ahead and added that the campaign is looking into the possibility of making that happen. The source added that GOP Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia may join Walker on the campaign trail as early as next week.
Kemp, who comfortably won re-election on Tuesday with an eight-point victory over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 nail biter, said on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” Wednesday that “I feel very good about getting Herschel across the finish line.”
Kemp won roughly 200,000 more votes in his election that Walker did in the Senate contest, and one concern for Republicans is that without the popular Georgia governor on the ballot again on Dec. 6, GOP turnout may suffer.
Also impacting the Georgia runoff is whether its results will determine which party controls the Senate majority.
With votes still being counted in the battleground states of Arizona and Nevada and those Senate races still too close to call, the Republicans hold a 49-48 edge over the Democrats in the 100-member chamber. If the Republicans or Democrats sweep both of those contests, control of the Senate will be settled.
But if the two parties split the contests in Arizona and Nevada, the Senate majority will be at stake in the Georgia runoff election. In Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly currently holds a slight lead over GOP challenger Blake Masters, while in Nevada Republican challenger and former state attorney general Adam Laxalt maintains a razor-thin edge over Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
“If Senate control runs through Georgia, that could overshadow Herschel’s host of hiccups and foibles. If not, it’s a battle of likability and trust which does not favor him,” a veteran Georgia based Republican strategist told Fox News.
“A lot of Republicans held their noses and voted for Herschel thinking Senate control was on the line. If that is no longer the case in a month, he’s gonna have a problem,” argued the source, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which is the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, announced on Wednesday that it and Walker’s campaign are setting up the 2022 Georgia Victory Committee, which is a joint-fundraising committee. An NRSC official tells Fox News that it will be running a new commercial on behalf of Walker in Georgia by late Thursday, and that it’s immediately deploying staff to the Peach State as it ramps up runoff operations.
The rival Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) announced on Thursday a new $7 million field organizing investment in the Georgia runoff, which the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm says will fund direct over contact programs, beefing up Warnock’s already “robust” field organizing efforts.
“We know talking directly to voters through a strong, well-funded ground-game is critical to winning in Georgia, and we’re wasting no time in kick-starting these programs in the runoff,” DSCC chair Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan said.
Warnock, in a fundraising email to supporters, noted that “Donald Trump, [longtime Senate GOP leader] Mitch McConnell, and the entire Republican establishment have spent millions to prop up my opponent, Herschel Walker, and defeat me. And they’re about to spend a whole lot more to definitively turn Georgia red.”
Walker, in an interview on Fox News’ “Hannity” on Wednesday night, vowed “I’m going to keep fighting.”
And pointing to the Democrats, he argued “I know they’re going to throw more at me, even the kitchen sink, but I can catch it.”
Walker, who won a Heisman Trophy and helped steer the University of Georgia to a college football national championship four decades ago, jumped into the GOP race to face off against Warnock in the summer of last year, after months of support and encouragement from Trump to run for the Senate. It is the former college and pro football star’s first run for office.
Thanks to his legendary status among many in Georgia and his immense, favorable name recognition in the Peach State, Walker was the overwhelming front-runner for the GOP Senate nomination and basically ignored the field of lesser-known primary rivals, declining to take part in debates as he focused his campaign on Warnock. Walker ended up trouncing his rivals in the May primary, but he quickly came under fire as the general election got underway.
Walker was heavily criticized both on the campaign trail and in ads over what Democrats call his numerous “bizarre or false statements,” and also took fire over numerous reports that he overinflated the success of his businesses and academic record.
Even before he faced bombshell allegations in September and October that he persuaded and paid for past girlfriends to have abortions — which Walker, who’s a vocal opponent of legalized abortion, has repeatedly denied — the candidate was forced to play defense regarding a number of other personal controversies, from the accusations of past abuse and threats against his first wife to acknowledging children he fathered out of wedlock that he had not previously publicly mentioned, despite having criticized absent fathers for decades.