This is a commentary by opinion columnist Adam Van Brimmer.
Here’s something I thought I’d never write about Herschel Walker, the political candidate.
Well played, Herschel.
On Tuesday, after months of “any time, any place” posturing from Walker and loads of juvenile goading by his U.S. Senate race opponent, Walker officially committed to debating Raphael Warnock. Walker accepted Warnock’s challenge in "Game of Thrones" fashion - he shunned invites from the debates that Warnock had pledged to attend in favor of a new event.
3 things to know about Walker-Warnock: Celebrity brands, big money and turnout mark Georgia's U.S. Senate race
Walker’s proposed debate is to be staged on Oct. 14 in Savannah at a theater-to-be-named later. The timing and locale are significant in that Walker has challenged Warnock in the senator’s hometown - Warnock was born and raised a few dozen city blocks away from Savannah’s theater district - and agreed to do so in front of a sizable crowd, not in a small venue or a closed television studio.
Shrewd move by a candidate who the Warnock campaign has painted as a coward in recent months over his debate dodges. With this proposal, Walker tells Georgia voters that not only is he not afraid to debate Warnock, but that he’ll challenge him in his own backyard in front of what could be an animated audience.
Walker’s cunning has stolen Warnock’s swagger. The incumbent has yet to accept Walker’s invite, insisting instead that Walker acquiesce to calls to debate at a Savannah TV station, at Mercer University in Macon or at the Atlanta Press Club.
Warnock’s hesitation makes him appear the wimp for the first time in this election - and changes the tone of what looked like a race that was Warnock’s to lose.
Beyond the campaign ads: Learn about the Georgia candidates running for Senate
Warnock picks fight with Walker
Warnock has gone full schoolyard playground on Walker in this race.
He made a TV ad, titled “Scared,” that clearly compared Walker to a kitten - draw your own parallels there - for his stance on debates.
If Herschel Walker is so ready to debate, why hasn’t he agreed to any? pic.twitter.com/SxU65WHBbu
— Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) July 25, 2022
Then, at a Walker campaign event this summer, a Democratic operative showed up in a chicken suit carrying a sign that read “Herschel Walker: I’ve been in the chicken business for years.”
Walker is out of his depth in his first political campaign, but he’s hired seasoned veterans around him. He overhauled his staff in July, employing highly respected pro Chip Lake, among others, and is starting to see the benefits.
No spin doctor alive can cover up for all of Walker’s gaffes, such as his “good air/bad air” claims about climate change and China, but a little bit of expertise goes as far as a touchdown run in politics.
And Walker, because of his icon status, doesn’t need much blocking.
Van Brimmer on Walker: Herschel Walker is pushing away voters the way he once did tacklers
Van Brimmer on Walker: Herschel in hiding? Walker's U.S. Senate campaign a disaster thus far, soon to worsen
Warnock on the defensive
Warnock is now the candidate who needs to re-seize the narrative.
The Senate race, more than any other partisan contest this November, was the one with crossover potential. Voter turnout will decide governor, U.S. House races and other matchups on the ballot, but polls have shown that independents and moderate conservatives are skeptical of Walker - and rightfully so.
Yet Warnock is a Democrat, the party that has underperformed in the 20 months since President Joe Biden took office. Walker's recent campaign strategy has been to tie Warnock to Biden. With this debate maneuver, if Walker can show voters that Warnock isn’t quite the self-assured, smooth-talking, no-nonsense wunderkind that he’s portrayed as, Walker could make a comeback worthy of the sporting idol he is.
Then again, Walker could take the stage this fall in Savannah and say something asinine about gun control, climate change, abortion or any other wedge issue or policy. Or he could mimic Kelly Loeffler two years ago and repeat the phrase “radical liberal Raphael Warnock” like a malfunctioning animatronic robot at Disney’s “Hall of Presidents” and undercut his chances.
Between now and Oct. 14, though, Walker can legitimately say “I’m in this race.” Warnock picked a playground fight with the biggest tough in the schoolyard, and Walker has stepped to.
Well played, Herschel, for sure. What comes next will decide this election.
Contact Van Brimmer at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wise cracks daily on Twitter @SavannahOpinion.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Herschel Walker agrees to U.S. Senate race debate against Warnock