Former President Barack Obama describe Herschel walker as “a celebrity who wants to be a politician” during a Friday night speech at Georgiapraising the Republican Senate candidate as “one of the greatest running backs of all time”, but someone who is not equipped to be a United States Senator.
Obama went point-to-point against Walker, calling him “someone who wears a fake badge and says he’s in law enforcement like a kid playing cops and robbers,” attacking his “problems with character” and his “habit of not telling the truth”, and describing him as someone who is going to be so faithful to former President Donald Trump “That means he’s not really going to think about you or your needs.”
The speech, the former Democratic president’s first full foray into the campaign trail in 2022, framed the midterm elections as a choice election “between politicians who seem willing to do anything for power and leaders who share our values, who see you and care about you.”
“Pretty much every Republican politician seems obsessed with two things: owning libraries and getting Donald Trump’s endorsement,” Obama said. “It’s their program, it’s not long, it’s not complicated and, at least for me, it’s not very inspiring. They are not interested in solving problems. They are interested in making you angry and finding someone to blame. Because that way you might not notice that they don’t have answers on their own.
Obama was greeted with resounding applause inside the Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia. On several occasions, he delivered one of his old campaign classics: “Don’t boo, vote!”
He acknowledged the economic headwinds facing Democrats in November, saying, “Listen, inflation is a real problem right now. It’s not just in America, it’s all over the world. This is one of the legacies of the pandemic.
But he suggested Republicans haven’t come up with any policies or plans of their own, saying, “Republicans talk about it a lot, but what’s their response?” What are their economic policies?
Yet Obama’s sharpest comment was aimed at Walker, calling his run against the Democratic senator. Raphael Warnockwhich is the key to controlling the evenly divided Senate, a “study in contrast”.
The comment opened with a compliment from Walker, a legendary University of Georgia football player who won the Heisman Trophy in 1982.
“Now there are a lot of young people here, yeah, that excites me. Some of you might not remember this, but Herschel Walker was one hell of a football player,” Obama said. college, he was amazing. One of the best running backs of all time. But here’s the question: does that make him the best person to represent you in the US Senate? Does that make him equipped to weigh in on the critical decisions about our economy, our foreign policy and our future?
Obama then joked that just because Walker won the Heisman doesn’t mean the public would let him fly a plane he was in or operate him without knowing if he was qualified.
“By the way, the opposite is also true. You may have liked me as president, but you wouldn’t want me to start being bottled up by the dogs,” he said. “I mean, can you imagine my old skinny behind getting hit by a 300-pound defensive tackle running a 4.6 40 (yard dash)? You should kick me off the field. No I can not. No I can not. I’m good at a lot of things, but this wouldn’t be one of those things I’m good at.
But then Obama pounced on the Republican.
“There is very little evidence that he took an interest in, took the trouble to learn anything about, or showed any inclination for public service or voluntary work or for helping people of all way,” Obama said, later nodding to Trump, arguing that Walker seems like a “celebrity who wants to be a politician and we’ve seen how it goes.”
Then Obama brought up Walker’s “character issues,” an apparent reference to allegations that he paid two women to terminate their pregnancies.
Walker, who has previously advocated for a nationwide abortion ban with no exceptions, denied the claims.
Obama said Walker was “used to not telling the truth, used to saying one thing and doing another, used to having certain rules for you and your important friends and other rules for everyone else”.
“That says a lot about the kind of leader you are going to be,” he added. “And if a candidate’s main qualification is that they’re going to be loyal to Donald Trump, that means they’re not really going to think about you or your needs.”
Walker pushed back against Obama’s comments in a statement Saturday.
“President Obama was here last night. He said I’m a celebrity. He was wrong, wasn’t he? I’m not a celebrity, I’m a warrior for God,” the GOP nominee said.
Walker also said he would pray for Obama, who he said chose the “wrong horse” in endorsing Warnock.
“He needs help because he got the wrong horse. Senator Warnock is the wrong horse. You know he can’t do the job, and it’s time for him to go,” Walker said.
Obama wasn’t the only Democrat to ramp up the rhetoric against Walker — Warnock also used his speech introducing the former president to call out his Republican opponent by name.
Reflecting Democrats’ concern that the race will be tight, Warnock urged Georgians to think about the consequences of the election, saying, “A vote is your voice, your voice is your human dignity.”
In his remarks to resounding applause from the crowd, Warnock directly confronted his rival – echoing Obama’s criticism that Walker is not ready.
“Put simply, Herschel Walker is not ready,” Warnock said. “He’s not ready. He is not ready. Not only is he not ready, but he is not in good shape.
Warnock, who said his Republican opponent struggled with the truth, later added, “If we can’t trust him to tell the truth about his life, how can we trust him to protect our lives, our families, our children and our jobs? and our future?
Obama spent less time focusing on Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, despite the fact that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams spoke at the event. Obama noted some of the voting laws that Kemp and Republicans in Georgia passed following the 2018 election, but they were much less direct.
Instead, the former president offered broader midterm thoughts.
“I understand why people are anxious. I understand why you might be worried. I understand why it can be tempting to just tune out, watch football or ‘Dance with the Stars,’” Obama said. “But I’m here to tell you that going offline is not an option. Desperation is not an option. The only way to make this economy fairer is for us all to fight for it. The only way to save democracy is if we, together, cultivate it and fight for it.
He added: “The fundamental question you should be asking yourself right now is who will fight for you? Who cares about you? Who sees you? Who believes in you? This is the choice of this election.
Although Obama spent less time on the governor’s racethe arena erupted to chants of “Stacey! Stacey! Stacey! as Abrams took the stage before the former president. She invoked the story of Obama’s own election in 2008 – and re-election in 2012 — and implored voters to believe she can overtake Kemp, who polls show has an advantage in the race.
“We defied conventional wisdom to bring about generational change,” Abrams said, “and we’re about to do it again, Georgia, we’re about to do it again.”
She added, “We’ve challenged history again and again and we will do it on November 8 because that’s who we are. We’re a Georgia, and we believe in ourselves, and we believe in tomorrow.
Hours before Obama’s arrival, long lines stretched around the Gateway Center Arena in College Park, just outside Atlanta. Helpers with clipboards and laptops made their way through the crowds, signing people up for volunteer campaign teams to go door-to-door this weekend.
Above all, officials said, the event was intended to be an organizational tool.
“Having President Obama here shows that we are still fighting, pushing towards election day,” Rep. Nikema Williams, who is also chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party, told CNN. “It’s about bringing people together and exciting voters who are still looking for inspiration during this election cycle.”
More than 1.3 million people had already voted in Georgia by Friday, according to the secretary of state’s office, with one more week to go before the early voting period.
Inside the arena, a DJ warmed up the crowd of about 6,000, with Democrats waving signs for Warnock, Abrams and other state and local candidates on the ballot.
“Vote early, now until November 4,” shouted large blue signs in the arena. “Election Day: November 8”.
This story has been updated with additional reaction.