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SPIGOLON: Herschel running back to prominence?
Herschel Walker and Donald Trump
In this May 29, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump, left, and his daughter Ivanka Trump, right, watch as former football player Herschel Walker, center, throws footballs during White House Sports and Fitness Day on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. - photo by The Associated Press

This is an opinion.

A guy who hasn’t lived in Georgia for decades is now considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., for one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats in the 2022 election.

That the “guy” is Georgia football legend Herschel Walker already gives him the name recognition that Kelly Loeffler needed millions of dollars of her own money to buy before she lost narrowly to Warnock in November 2020.

The race will be for a full term for the seat vacated by another Georgia legend, Johnny Isakson, in 2019 because of health reasons. 

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler, a then-little known millionaire business executive and WNBA team owner, to fill the post until last year’s election. 

Loeffler and Warnock emerged from a “jungle primary” of numerous candidates from both parties and Warnock won a runoff in January of this year by about 94,000 votes out of about 4.5 million votes cast.

So, now, Warnock is considered one of the more vulnerable senators in the 2022 race. And former president Donald Trump is exerting his considerable influence in Georgia by floating the name of Walker for the seat.

Walker won the Heisman Trophy and led UGA to the consensus national championship in the era before the College Football Playoff allowed teams to determine the champion on the field. 

After three years with the Dawgs, Walker was among the first big-name college players to sign with the fledgling United States Football League (USFL) in 1981. He signed with the New Jersey Generals, a team owned by Trump when he was merely a New York real estate magnate.

Walker, of course, went on to play many productive years with the Dallas Cowboys after the USFL folded. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings, made a big splash by running for more than 100 yards in his debut on “Monday Night Football,” and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles where he had his final 1,000-yard rushing season before his retirement in 1997.

He also was a member of the U.S. Olympic bobsledding team and knocked out two opponents in a stint as a mixed-martial arts (MMA) fighter at age 48.

In business, Walker also was a success after founding a chicken production company, Renaissance Man Foods, and investing in a drapery company and an Atlanta-based promotions company.

That should be enough to get him over the hump for most voters compared to Warnock, who has had little time to gain the recognition needed for his own accomplishments in the Senate.

But Walker also detailed his struggles with mental health issues in a book released last year. Despite his native status, he has lived in Texas, not Georgia, most of his adult life.

Meanwhile, Walker also campaigned heavily for Trump in both of his campaigns for president. Trump’s popularity is widespread in Georgia but his negatives obviously came to the fore for many voters when they made him the first Republican presidential candidate to lose Georgia in 28 years.

Republicans desperately want a strong candidate that can oust Warnock — a longtime pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church — so they can win back a majority in the Senate now split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote.

Warnock has had a relatively small amount of time to build a Senate resume. 

He also represents a Democratic Party headed by a president who has had his own troubles getting major initiatives like an infrastructure package approved. 

President Joe Biden came close but was unable to convince 70% of Americans to get vaccinated against COVID by July 4. And his vice president has come under considerable partisan fire for her focus on traveling to Central America to address the root causes of illegal immigration rather than traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border to see the surge of immigrants there.

Warnock will face criticism for the lack of Democratic success on those initiatives.

But will Walker be the candidate Republicans need to regain Georgia’s GOP foothold in the Senate?

Another Republican accomplished in his own way, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, already has announced his intention to seek the seat. Black has made the phrase “Georgia Grown” a familiar one in supermarkets and farmer’s markets statewide.

Will Herschel make a triumphant run back into the limelight in Georgia? It will be interesting to see — and a decision some prominent state Republicans hope he makes soon.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The News. Reach him at