OCILLA, Ga. — Herschel Walker, Georgia’s Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, gave a 10-minute stump speech on Tuesday in which he told no new whoppers, made no obvious mistakes and allowed reporters to witness the whole thing.
That seeming nonstory was actually news, given how Mr. Walker’s candidacy has been going recently, and it appeared to reflect the labors of a team of Republican operatives who have swooped in to turn around his campaign, after a string of unforced errors called into question his readiness for political prime time.
Addressing more than 100 supporters, many in red University of Georgia jerseys or American flag T-shirts, Mr. Walker blamed the Biden administration for soaring inflation, bemoaned the surge in migrants at the southern U.S. border and accused President Biden of squandering America’s energy independence. He said the Democrat he is challenging, Senator Raphael Warnock, “wants to vote with Joe Biden more than he wants to vote for Georgia.”
His campaign’s initial response was to hunker down: For several weeks, it declined to alert journalists to his public appearances and barred reporters from some events when they showed up anyway.
Key Themes From the 2022 Midterm Elections So Far
The state of the midterms. We are now over halfway through this year’s midterm primary season, and some key ideas and questions have begun to emerge from the results. Here’s a look at what we’ve learned so far:
Even when Mr. Walker refused news coverage, he managed to invite ridicule. In a July 9 appearance that was streamed live on Facebook, he spoke expansively, and not entirely understandably, about climate change and pollution — suggesting that Georgia’s “good air decides to float over” to China, displacing China’s “bad air” that goes back to Georgia, where “we got to clean that back up.”
Days later, the campaign announced that it had brought on a number of longtime political operatives, including a handful of former top aides to Georgia Republican Senate candidates, as well as Gail Gitcho, a veteran strategist who was communications director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Tuesday’s event in Ocilla, a three-hour drive southeast of Atlanta, suggested the new team was having an effect.
Nodding to the many agricultural workers in the crowd at a car dealership in rural Irwin County, Mr. Walker — who held the event with Tyler Harper, the Republican agriculture commissioner nominee — noted the higher prices for fuel and condemned Mr. Warnock’s support for special financial assistance to Black farmers, saying it was as discriminatory as the problem it aimed to solve.
“I’m running to stop Raphael Warnock,” Mr. Walker said to applause.
The event, billed as part of a series of campaign stops for “farmers and foresters,” was one of several aimed at enthusiastic Republican voting blocs that the campaign plans to stage over the next several weeks. Others will focus on law-enforcement officers and veterans, said Mallory Blount, a campaign spokeswoman.
Mr. Walker also appeared to revise how he describes his business career. After recounting his rise from an overweight child in rural Wrightsville to a football hero, he said he had gone on to lead “one of the largest minority-owned poultry companies.” In the past, he has said his company was the largest such firm — which is not true.
Mr. Walker veered into allegorical territory once, for a story about heaven and hell in which hell turned out to be the place for some Democrats’ campaigns.
He also invoked the last line of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to make a roundabout attack on Mr. Warnock: “Every time that flag got ready to hit the ground, some dead patriot laid against it because he loved his freedom,” Mr. Walker said.
“Right now we’ve got people who have forgotten about who and what America really is, what we stand for,” he added. “They want to separate us. That’s one of the guys I’m running against — Senator Raphael Warnock.”
Mr. Warnock’s campaign noted the senator’s work with farmers and rural communities, saying he had worked to lower their costs and improve mental health care to cope with stresses like natural disasters and the pandemic. “Georgians see Reverend Warnock fighting for them in the U.S. Senate and they know they have a clear choice this fall,” said Meredith Brasher, a campaign spokeswoman.
Dominic LaRiccia, a state representative from a district 20 miles from Ocilla, said it was his first time seeing Mr. Walker “live and in action” and praised his explanation for why he was running. (“I love Georgia and I love America,” Mr. Walker had said.)
Acknowledging Mr. Walker’s rough road thus far, Mr. LaRiccia added: “You want to be famous, not infamous.” But he said he believed conservative Georgians would look past the damaging reports about Mr. Walker and vote for him as a reliable supporter of conservative policies in the Senate.
Carl Nichols, an agriculture teacher and farmer from Tifton, Ga., said he had heard Mr. Walker speak at a Future Farmers of America conference years ago where he had alluded very obliquely to “the choices he’s made.”
Mr. Nichols said he took that to mean an acknowledgment of his failings, whatever they might be — and that it had endeared Mr. Walker to him.
“All this other stuff was not news to me,” Mr. Nichols said of the specific disclosures about Mr. Walker that have emerged during the Senate campaign. “I’d heard it before, from him. I feel like he’s truthful — a man to get up and say what he says in public.”