Editor’s Note: Geoff Duncan, a Republican, is the 12th Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.
The October surprise involving Herschel Walker, the Republican nominee in Georgia’s US Senate race, has upended the political landscape, throwing one of the nation’s closest midterm races into turmoil five weeks before Election Day, but it never had to be this way. Just as there should not be two Democrats representing a center-right state like Georgia in the US Senate, the Republican Party should not have found its chance of regaining a Senate majority hanging on an untested and unproven first-time candidate.
Walker won his Senate primary not because of his political chops or policy proposals. He found his opponents because of his performance on the football field 40 years ago and his friendship with former President Donald Trump – neither of which are guaranteed tickets to victory anymore.
Everyone in America deserves due process, and Walker vehemently denied the Daily Beast report suggesting he had paid for a woman’s abortion in 2009 after the two conceived a child while they were dating. Walker has opposed abortion rights. He went so far as to threaten legal action against the publication as a recourse. But the impact in the court of public opinion was immediate and intense. Even influential conservative personality Erick Erickson described it as “probably a KO.”
Now, members of a nervous GOP infrastructure must hold their breath and hope Walker can weather the storm. To his political credit, Walker has faced other serious allegations, including domestic abuse, an exaggerated business career and an erratic personality. So far, he has had a Trump-esque Teflon quality of surviving scandals that would sink mere mortals. Walker’s latest test is his most serious, not just by its nature, but in its October timing.
Meanwhile, the Georgia governor’s race offers Republicans a better path forward as a party. What was billed as a blockbuster re-match between the incumbent GOP Governor Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams has turned into a relative snoozer. Abrams has so far failed to re-capture the magic of her 2018 run when she raised nearly $28 million dollars and became a rising national Democratic star.
Her stock has since taken a sharp fall. Abrams famously refused to concede her 2018 defeat. Just days ago, a federal judge tossed out her group’s lawsuit claiming the election was decided improperly. She also faced an investigation by the State Ethics Commission about her fundraising practices in 2018, which was dismissed this past summer.
Yet Kemp is breathing easier this year for factors that extend beyond Abrams’ flaws. He has his own record to fall back on, and it is one of accomplishments and results. Georgia was recently named the best state for business for the ninth consecutive year by Area Development magazine. In a decision that has aged well over time, Kemp re-opened our state from the pandemic faster than many others, angering even then-President Trump. As more people and businesses have re-located to our state for our business-friendly climate, Georgia has taken meaningful strides toward becoming the technology capital of the East Coast.
Kemp has shown other Republicans the road map for navigating the post-Trump presidency. After certifying the 2020 election in Georgia, the governor found himself in the former president’s constant crosshairs. Trump was so enraged that he recruited former Senator David Perdue to mount a quixotic primary challenge based solely on the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen. Kemp kept his cool and won the race by more than 50 points.
Kemp avoids the constant media circus around Trump and stays focused on his job.
Meanwhile, incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock has maintained a slim but steady lead over Walker. He has done so despite voting more than 96% of the time with President Joe Biden in a state where just 44% of voters approve of the President, compared to 53% who disapprove, according to a recent Quinnipiac University survey.
Those numbers do not lie. Our Senate race should be a referendum on Warnock’s blind rubber-stamping of Biden’s agenda. In an evenly divided upper chamber, Warnock could have stopped every piece of flawed legislation that passed along party line votes, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act and the $750 billion Inflation Reduction Act, both often cited by conservatives as some of the culprits for inflation rates at four-decade highs.
Yet instead of Warnock’s voting record, the attention has focused on the Republican challenger, a trend that will only accelerate after recent events.
Just as in the special elections in 2021, if the GOP squanders this year’s Georgia Senate race, we only have ourselves to blame.
If we want the American public to take us seriously, we need to take the first step by nominating candidates they should take seriously. That process goes beyond celebrity or fame. It requires leaders capable of winning elections by articulating a conservative vision for governing.