PERRY, Ga. — U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker is expected to be a major attraction Saturday with his recent ringing endorsement from former President Donald Trump as the two attend a “Save America” rally at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry.
In the last year, Walker has emerged as a prominent Republican supporting Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that widespread illegal voting and other election irregularities cost Trump the White House in November. On Tuesday, the former University of Georgia football star scored a victory at the State Election Board when it dismissed a complaint alleging that his wife, Julie Blanchard, had illegally voted while living in Texas.
The decision means Walker has a strong response if asked about the propriety of his wife’s Georgia vote, especially in light of the former running back’s claims that out-of-state votes helped cost Trump Georgia’s 2020 election.
After months of playing coy while Trump urged him to run for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat on the ballot in 2022, Walker announced his campaign with a video on Aug. 25. He filed federal campaign paperwork last month listing the Buckhead home address that his wife used as her principal residence to vote.
Frances Watson, the chief investigator in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, recommended that state board members close the inquiry into Blanchard’s voting in the Nov. 3 general election and requesting an absentee ballot for the January runoff featuring a pair of Senate races.
Blanchard owns a Fulton County home, operates a business in Georgia, pays state income tax and has a vehicle registered here, Watson noted shortly before the 4-0 board vote.
“The investigation revealed that Julie Blanchard states she considers her residence to be in Georgia,” Watson said. “She states that her husband owns a home in Texas so they do spend some time there.”
Walker’s press secretary Mallory Blount on Tuesday called Blanchard’s voting case the result of political shenanigans.
“This was yet another absurd smear campaign by Herschel’s political opponents,” Blount said. “Herschel is traveling across the state connecting with Georgians and is laser focused on beating Raphael Warnock. Glad this matter is put to rest.”
Whoever filed the complaint against Blanchard has remained anonymous, but their inquiry raised questions about whether Blanchard’s Texas or Georgia home met the legal voting requirements of being a permanent residence.
There have been other recent instances where candidates or their allies have tried to paint their political opponents as outsiders by questioning where they lived, which happened with Democrats and now-Sen. Jon Ossoff and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, said Jeffrey Lazarus, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University.
“This is sort of the new wave for Republicans in primary contests to smear each other right now,” Lazarus said. “‘Oh, how can Herschel Walker talk about voter integrity when his wife is playing games with the voter registration process?’”
“It’s a way to paint one another as being insincere on the issue. So it’s possible that we’re gonna see more of this kind of thing as ‘voter integrity’ becomes a more central plank for Republicans,” Lazarus said.
Walker is considered a front-runner to win the Republican primary in May, buoyed by his role in leading the UGA football team to the 1980 title and his close relationship with Trump. He played for Trump’s New Jersey Generals in the United States Football League and made a case for his reelection as a speaker at the 2020 Republican National Convention.
He must first defeat three GOP primary challengers before running against the Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in the November 2022 Senate election, including state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler, and Marietta contractor and U.S. Air Force veteran Kelvin King.
Walker, who also faces new challenges as a first-time candidate, is one of several guest speakers at Saturday’s Trump rally, each of whom has remained on Trump’s good side by consistently repeating baseless election conspiracy theories.
Walker is expected to speak along with state Sen. Burt Jones in his bid for lieutenant governor, and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice in his secretary of state campaign to become Georgia’s top election chief. Hice is vying to replace fellow Republican and incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who Trump targeted for defeat when he declined to “find” enough votes to overcome President Joe Biden’s narrow Georgia victory.
Trump’s public endorsement Saturday will further boost Walker’s popularity among the conservative voting bloc who remain captivated by the former president, Lazarus predicted.
“Republican primary voters love Trump and follow his lead,” Lazarus said. “This is why the Republican Party is in the place that it is because he has so thoroughly captured Republican voters.
“Getting his endorsement and being seen visibly with him, getting on television with an image of you shaking Trump’s hand with him smiling is a really big deal,” he added.