Herschel Walker begins his Georgia GOP Senate primary bid with high favorability ratings and strong support from self-identified moderate Republicans, according to internal polling obtained by POLITICO.
While news coverage of past domestic violence allegations and business dealings once clouded Walker’s prospects as a candidate, the survey suggests that at the onset of his campaign — the former football star announced his intention to run in late August — Republican voters have staked him to a huge lead.
The new survey from OnMessage Inc., a Republican political consulting firm, shows 61 percent of self-described moderate Republican voters are backing Walker, compared to 81 percent of conservatives. Among all GOP primary voters, 74 percent said they would vote for Walker, compared to 6 percent for his closest rival, Gary Black, and 16 percent who remain undecided.
Results from the poll, conducted Oct. 11-14, shows the primary electorate had coalesced around Walker before Senate GOP leaders changed course and publicly offered their support last week — endorsements that also followed news of Walker’s $3.7 million third-quarter fundraising haul.
The survey, commissioned by pro-Walker super PAC 34N22 Leadership, is based on responses from 400 likely Republican primary voters and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.
Republicans can’t afford a messy primary fight that could weaken their prospects of winning back the seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who along with Sen. Jon Ossoff won the swing state in a January runoff that gave Democrats the majority.
McConnell, who hasn’t yet endorsed in any other open primaries, called Walker “the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate.”
Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the respective Republican whip and conference chair, also endorsed Walker last week.
But just as the trio of powerful Senate Republicans offered their support to Walker — a proactive measure to minimize primary mudslinging in the Georgia race — Black on Friday went on the attack.
While visiting a Marietta domestic violence shelter, Black, Georgia’s agriculture commissioner, described past allegations against Walker as “disqualifying,” calling on him to explain the accusations.
Walker’s ex-wife, who took out a protective order against him in 2005, claimed he threatened to shoot and kill her, the Associated Press reported this summer. Other women have made similar allegations about Walker, though he has dismissed the claims.
Black cautioned that Democrats would spend $100 million in ads highlighting the police reports and domestic violence allegations if Walker becomes the Republican nominee.
“I think we need to have that conversation now,” Black told reporters Friday. “He needs to address all these reports in detail, himself, and now, before we hand the Senate to the left on a silver platter.”
Walker’s third-quarter fundraising filing, which included just a month’s worth of contributions, dwarfs the $1.2 million Black has raised since April.
Warnock, meanwhile, raised $9 million last quarter and has $17.2 million cash on hand.