Residency issue could come back to haunt Herschel Walker

Most people expect the runoff election between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock to be every bit as tight as the last one and plenty of mud has been slung in both directions as the process has played out. 

The latest headline to catch my eye was a bit surprising (at least to me) because I don’t know how this tidbit didn’t turn up during the general election campaign. It’s being reported that one detail from Walker’s campaign disclosure forms indicates that his “primary residence” in Georgia wasn’t actually his residence at all until very shortly before he jumped into the Senate race. In fact, the house is in his wife’s name and it was being used as a rental property up until the start of the campaign last year. 

This revelation raises questions of both residential requirements in Georgia (possibly) and how deep Walker’s “deep roots” in the state have really been, as he has so often claimed on the campaign trail.

When he launched his campaign for U.S. Senate, Walker claimed his deep roots in the state didn’t end with his days as a football legend at the University of Georgia.

It was widely known at the time that the Republican hopeful had been living in Texas for decades, though he has claimed to maintain a residence in Atlanta for “17 years.” Less widely known, however, was that Walker’s wife collected tens of thousands of dollars in rental income for that residence, according to his 2021 financial disclosure forms.

The house doubled as the Walker campaign’s first official address when he launched his bid in August 2021. Fulton County tax and property records show the home is solely owned by Walker’s wife, Julie Blanchard, who also collected rental income from 2020 and 2021 ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, according to the disclosure—defining the asset as “Georgia residence.”

It’s not entirely clear whether Walker’s actual residency would impact his eligibility to run for the Senate in Georgia. Federal law doesn’t require a candidate to live in the state where they are running. But Georgia’s election laws do address the subject in a couple of ways.

The law applies to anyone seeking office statewide and there is a residency requirement. But Walker supposedly moved back to Georgia shortly before announcing his candidacy. In that sense, he might be in the clear. 

But the law also makes mention of “the location of any homestead tax exemption” the candidate may have taken. As it turns out, Walker filed for homestead tax exemptions at his previous residence in Texas for both 2021 and 2022. A court will need to sort that matter out if the Democrats press the issue, which they no doubt will.

There’s more to this story than crossing all of the T’s and dotting all of the I’s in terms of Georgia’s election laws, however. Warnock’s team has been hammering Walker from the beginning over his lack of real roots in Georgia ever since he left to start his professional football career. These details will just add more fuel to that fire. 

When asked about his Georgia roots on the campaign trail, Walker has repeatedly made references to the house his wife owns, saying “we’ve had this home here in Atlanta about 17 years.” It made for a good sound bite, but now Warnock will be able to point to evidence that Walker never lived in that home during any of that time and it was really nothing more than a cash stream for his wife.

Will that matter to any of the voters who might otherwise have been inclined to vote for Walker? It seems unlikely, particularly since the voting is already underway. But given how close the last race was and how close this one is expected to be, it wouldn’t take all that many people to turn the tide.

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