Herschel Walker, a former University of Georgia soccer star and professional soccer running back, easily won the Republican Senate primary in the peach state on Tuesday, setting him up to face incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock in November.
Walker defeated six other GOP candidates, including state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. The AP called the race an hour after polling stations closed.
Walker had 70.4% of the vote, with 16% of the precincts coming forward.
Walker, who won the 1982 Heisman Trophy for America’s top collegiate football player and helped the Bulldogs win the national championship as a freshman in 1980, was the big favorite to win the primary after being beaten by both former President Donald Trump and the Senate minority the support was secured by leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Trump called for Walker’s afterparty to gather the candidate and his supporters with a sonorous congratulatory speech.
“You were the greatest soccer player, you will be an even greater politician and senator. I know now, I knew from the moment I first spoke to you that this man is going to do things that are incredible. Congratulations not only for the night, but also for the large number, and you will have a tremendous victory for a long time,” Trump said.
“What a long way you’ve come, right? What a long distance. And after November I will only be prouder of you,” he added.
“No one is like this man. He’s a winner and he’s a champion and we all love him. And congratulations to everyone in this room.”
Walker, 60, grew up in Wrightsville, Georgia but hadn’t lived in the state for more than 30 years at the time he announced his run. He registered to vote in Georgia just days before the start of his campaign.
The soccer star has been close to Trump for decades, with their relationship dating back to when Walker played for Trump’s own New Jersey Generals of the old United States Football League. Walker has been a staunch supporter of Trump’s political ambitions, repeatedly backing the former president’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by voter fraud.
From 1985 to 1997 he played in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.
As the primary began, some Georgia GOP staffers expressed concern about Walker’s lack of political experience as well as his history of domestic violence. In 2005, Walker’s ex-wife obtained a protective order against him, alleging threats and controlling behavior.
In his 2008 memoir, Walker revealed that he had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder seven years earlier.
The Walker-Warnock race is expected to be a close and well-funded contest as both parties see it as key to Senate scrutiny next year.