Trump-backed Walker leans on sports career in pursuing U.S. Senate run

·3 min read

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Retired football star Herschel Walker on Wednesday launched a campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Georgia that leaned heavily on his personal rise from poverty to sporting greatness, as well as his support from former President Donald Trump.

Walker, who has never before run for elective office, will seek the Republican nomination to take on first-term Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock next year. The contest could play a critical role in determining whether President Joe Biden's fellow Democrats retain their razor-thin Senate majority.

His newly unveiled campaign website featured a video that highlighted his sports achievements but included little on policy views other than saying, "I believe in smaller government, a strong military, personal responsibility and making sure all people have an opportunity to pursue their dreams." He formally filed paperwork to run on Tuesday.

The website also included a photo of Walker on a stage with Trump, who in recent months has urged him to run. Walker in the 1980s played for a professional football team owned by Trump.

Walker in December backed Trump's false claims of widespread election fraud and urged Georgia's election officials to avoid certifying Biden's victory in the state.

Walker, 59, on Wednesday released a statement to local media saying that his personal successes - growing from "a poor kid" to be a business owner and winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy while at the University of Georgia signifying the nation's outstanding collegiate football player - were examples of an upward mobility in America that he said was slipping away.

Trump's backing may deter other Republicans from seeking the nomination, but observers said Walker could face an uphill battle against Warnock in the November 2022 general election.

"I'm not sure he's going to be the Republicans' best candidate to win in November," said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. "If he is just a football hero from 40 years ago, for some part of the electorate that could work well but swing voters may not necessarily think that makes you a good senator."

Walker did not respond to requests for comment.

Democrats cheered his entry in the race, with a major fundraising group for the party, the American Bridge 21st Century political committee, on Tuesday predicting a "full-bore nasty primary" after another Republican in the Senate race released a video taunting Walker.

Trump, who has yet to formally endorse Walker, has thrown his support to more than a dozen congressional candidates, including several challenging Republican incumbents who joined Democrats in an impeachment vote on a charge that Trump incited insurrection in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot by his supporters.

The former president has a mixed track record of late in endorsements. A coal lobbyist backed by Trump this month won a crowded primary in an Ohio contest for a U.S. House of Representatives seat, a week after his preferred candidate for a Texas seat in the House lost to another Republican.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)