Former President Barack Obama described Herschel Walker as a “celebrity who wants to be a politician” during a speech Friday night in Georgia, praising the Republican Senate nominee as “one of the best road builders of all time,” but someone who is ill-equipped. to be a United States senator.
Obama went point-for-point against Walker, calling him “someone who carries around a phony badge and says he’s in law enforcement like a kid playing cops and robbers,” attacking his “character problems” and his “habit of not telling the truth.” and described him as someone who would be so loyal to former President Donald Trump “that it means he won’t really think about you or your needs.”
The speech, the former Democratic president’s first on the campaign trail in 2022, framed the midterms as a choice election “between politicians who seem willing to do anything to get power and leaders who share our values, who see you and care about you.”
“Just about every Republican politician seems obsessed with two things – owning libs and getting Donald Trump’s approval,” said Obama. “That’s their agenda, it’s not long, it’s not complicated and, at least for me, it’s not very inspiring. They’re not interested in actually solving the problem. They’re interested in making you angry and finding someone to blame. Because that way you might not notice that they doesn’t have the answer alone.”
Obama was greeted with a standing ovation inside the Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Georgia. At some point, he delivered one of his old campaign slogans: “Don’t boo, vote!”
He acknowledged the economic headwinds facing Democrats in November, saying: “Listen, inflation is a real problem right now. Not just in America, but around the world. It’s one of the legacies of the pandemic.”
But he advised Republicans not to offer their own policies or plans, saying: “Republicans talk a lot about it, but what is the answer? What is their economic policy?”
But Obama’s most important comments were directed at Walker, calling his race against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is key to control of the evenly divided Senate, “a study in contrasts.”
The commentary opened with praise for Walker, the legendary football player at the University of Georgia who won the Heisman Trophy in 1982.
“Now there are a lot of young people here, yes, I’m glad. Some of you may not remember, but Herschel Walker was a football player,” said Obama. “In 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 able to weigh critical decisions about our economy and our foreign policy and our future?
Obama then joked that just because Walker won the Heisman, it does not mean that the audience will let him fly their plane in or perform surgery on them without knowing whether he is qualified.
“By the way, the opposite is also true. You may like me as president, but you don’t want me to start at the tailback of the dog,” he said. “I mean, can you imagine me being a slow, skinny old back getting hit by some 300-pound defensive tackle running a 4.6 40 (yard dash)? You’d have to scrape me off the field. No, I can’t. No, I don’t can. I’m good at a lot of things but that’s not one of the things I’m good at.”
But then Obama laid on the Republicans.
“There is very little evidence that he has taken any interest, bothered to learn anything about or show any kind of inclination towards public service or voluntary work or helping people in anyway,” said Obama, later nodding to Trump by arguing that Walker appears to be ” celebrities who want to be politicians and we’ve seen how that goes.”
Then Obama raised Walker’s “character issues,” an apparent reference to allegations that he paid two women to terminate their pregnancies.
Walker, who previously proposed a nationwide ban on abortion without exceptions, denied the claim.
Obama said Walker had “a habit of not telling the truth, a habit of saying one thing and doing another, a habit of having certain rules for you and your important friends and other rules for everyone else.”
“It speaks volumes about the kind of leader you are going to be,” he added. “And if a candidate’s main qualification is that he will be loyal to Donald Trump, that means he won’t really think about you or your needs.”
Walker pushed back on Obama’s comments in a statement Saturday.
“President Obama was here last night. He said he was a celebrity. He was wrong, right? I’m not a celebrity, I’m a soldier for God,” the GOP nominee said.
Walker also said he would pray for Obama, who he said had picked the “wrong horse” by backing Warnock.
“He needs help because he’s 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 step up his rhetoric against Walker — Warnock, too, used his speech introducing the former president to call out his Republican opponents by name.
Reflecting concerns among Democrats that the race is tight, Warnock urged Georgians to think about the consequences of the election, saying, “The vote is your vote, your vote is your human dignity.”
In his speech to rapturous applause from the crowd, Warnock immediately confronted his rival – echoing Obama’s criticism that Walker was unprepared.
“Simply put, Herschel Walker is not ready,” said Warnock. “He’s not ready. He’s not ready. Not only is he not ready, he’s not fit.
Warnock, who has said his Republican opponent struggles with the truth, added later, “If we can’t trust him to tell the truth about his life, how can we trust him to protect our lives and our families and our children and our jobs. and our future?” ”
Obama spent less time focusing on Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, although Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams spoke during the event. Obama noted some of Kemp’s voting laws with Republicans in Georgia soon after the 2018 election, but not immediately.
Instead, the former president offered broader thoughts about the midterms.
“I understand why people are worried. I understand why you might be worried. I understand why it can be tempting to just spend, watch football or ‘Dancing with the Stars,'” Obama said. “But I’m here to tell you that spending is not an option . Desperation is not an option. The only way to make this economy fairer is if we, all of us, fight for it. The only way to save democracy is if we stand together, nurture and fight for it.
He added: “The basic question you have to ask yourself now is who will fight for you? Who cares about you? Who sees you? Who believes in you? That is the choice in this election.”
Although Obama spent less time in the governor’s race, the arena erupted in chants of “Stacey! Stacey! Stacey!” as Abrams took the stage before the former president. He cited Obama’s own election history in 2008 — and his re-election in 2012 — and asked voters to believe he can overtake Kemp, who polls show has the upper hand in the race.
“We defied conventional wisdom to deliver generational change,” Abrams said, “and we’re going to do it again, Georgia, we’re going to do it again.”
He added: “We are defying history again and again and we will do it on November 8 because that is who we are. We are a Georgian, and we believe in ourselves, and we believe in tomorrow.
Hours before Obama arrived, long lines stretched around the Gateway Center Arena in College Park, just outside of Atlanta. Helpers with clipboards and laptop computers made their way through the crowd, signing up people to join the volunteer campaign to open the doors this weekend.
Above all, said the official, the event is intended as an organizing tool.
“Having President Obama here shows that we’re still fighting, we’re pushing toward Election Day,” Rep. Nikema Williams, who is also the chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, told CNN. “It’s about bringing people together with interesting voters who are still looking for inspiration during this election cycle.”
More than 1.3 million people had voted in Georgia by Friday, according to the secretary of state’s office, with a week left in the early voting period.
Inside the arena, a DJ warmed up the capacity crowd of about 6,000 people, and Democrats waved signs for Warnock, Abrams and other state and local candidates on the ballot.
“Early voting, now through November 4,” screamed the big blue sign in the arena. “Election Day: November 8.”
This story has been updated with additional reactions.