HUNT VALLEY, Md. (TND) — Former President Donald Trump announced his much anticipated presidential bid, even as the outcome of this year's midterm elections remains unclear. Nowhere is that more evident than in Georgia, where Republicans weigh how and if Trump should visit the Peach State in support of Herschel Walker's beleaguered senate campaign.
Walker and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., are headed to a runoff election on Dec. 6, the result of which will determine whether the Senate remains split at 50-50 or whether Democrats manage to gain a seat. Trump's announcement and the former president's behavior following the 2020 Georgia elections is giving the GOP heartburn.
During that election, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger easily defeated challengers endorsed by the former president, who acts as a lightning rod in the state, animating archconservatives while repulsing Georgia's independents Walker will need in December for a win.
Georgia Republican activists say they know what Trump should do ahead of December.
“I hope President Trump has a great time at Mar-a-Lago. And I believe that he will stay there, and I believe that he should stay there,” Cole Muzio, president of the Georgia-based conservative political advocacy group Frontline Policy Council, told The New York Times.
Many of Trump's endorsed candidates did not perform well during the midterms. The former president endorsed 25 Senate candidates and 162 House candidates leading up to Election Day. Of the Senate endorsees, 17 were declared winners, according to the Associated Press.
There were notable losses. Perhaps the most impactful is Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, who lost to Democrat John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, which flipped that Senate seat blue. Trump endorsed Oz in April.
The timing of Trump's announcement is a problem for Walker, mainly because it places Trump at the top of voters' minds ahead of the runoff, other senior Republican officials say.
“In an ideal world, he would have waited until after the runoff,” Stephen Lawson, a Republican consultant in Georgia who leads Walker’s PAC, told The New York Times. While Walker's campaign considers Trump's role on the campaign trail, Walker is also trying to wrangle funds out of the former president's super PAC.
Trump's Save America operation, for instance, made waves last week referencing the Georgia race. The email indicated the former president's operation would keep up to 90% of the money, while Walker's campaign would get 10%. The ratio was not immediately evident to prospective donors.
Trump's committee eventually changed the allocation, pinning the ratio to a 50 to 50 even split. But that was only after the Walker campaign complained once the issue was raised on Twitter. Other campaigns that had already been decided also sent out emails on Walker's behalf with 90 to 10 splits.
Even as Georgia Republicans hope Trump keeps his distance, the former president pumped up Walker during his big Tuesday announcement.
“He was an incredible athlete. He’ll be an even better senator,” Trump said, referring to Walker’s past as a University of Georgia football player. “Get out and vote for Herschel Walker.” Warnock used that as an opportunity to raise money for his runoff campaign.
“We know that he is well practiced in the politics of division,” Warnock said Tuesday of the former president. “And my opponent is his acolyte.” Walker doesn't frequently mention Trump during campaign speeches, focusing instead on blasting President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings remain low in Georgia and elsewhere.
Walker will need every last dollar heading into the final stretch. Warnock has so far raised nearly $100 million throughout the election, dwarfing the roughly $37 million Walker raked in, according to OpenSecrets.org. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC., who opposed Trump announcing Tuesday, is aware of the shortfall.
"Stand by Herschel tonight. If you can give, give," Graham said in an emotional appeal on Fox News last Thursday. "If you know somebody that can give, ask them to do it."