Georgia’s unusual twin U.S. Senate races are shaping up as historic contests crucial to GOP control of the Senate. The races coincide because Sen. Johnny Isakson will retire at the end of this year, two years before his term ends, because of declining health. An interim successor will be chosen by Gov. Brian Kemp to serve about 10 months before a special election in November 2010 for the remainder of the term. Sen. David Perdue will also be on the general election ballot seeking a second term.
Unusual is the word to describe Gov. Kemp’s approach to finding an interim successor for Isakson. The governor has opened the door for anyone to apply online — and nearly 500 hopefuls have done so. Kemp has a wide range of candidates to chose from, depending on how he reads the tea leaves. The choice is critical if, as is usually the case, the interim appointee has the inside track for winning in the special election.
If Kemp decides in favor of holding his base, an obvious choice would seem to be U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and staunch defender of President Donald Trump — but this may not be an advantage as the Democrats keep the impeachment pot boiling. Another applicant in the same mold is former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who held the Sixth District seat until taking the Washington job only to resign under pressure after about six months for using charter flights and military aircraft for travel.
An urgent need that Kemp faces is shoring up Republican support in the suburbs. Even before the impeachment push and never-ending attacks on the president, Trump had problems in the suburbs in 2016, losing to Hillary Clinton in big counties including Cobb and Gwinnett. Extending this trend in the midterm elections, Democrat Lucy McBath unseated Republican Karen Handel in the onetime 6th District GOP stronghold. In the governor’s race, Kemp managed to win over Democrat Stacey Abrams by a margin of 1.4%. Likewise, a Democrat polled within two-tenths of a percentage point of toppling Republican incumbent Rob Woodall in the 7th District.
If Kemp decides in favor of strengthening the GOP in the suburbs, he might consider Georgia House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones of suburban Milton, the highest female GOP officeholder in the state. She has applied for the interim appointment as has another woman with a household name in Georgia — Jackie Gingrich Cushman, daughter of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and an author and financial analyst.
While the governor is focused on filling Isakson’s seat, the Democrats are gunning for Sen. David Perdue. Already in the running for the Democratic nomination for the seat are four hopefuls: Sarah Riggs Amico, who ran for lieutenant governor last year on the ticket with Stacey Abrams, former Mayor Teresa Tomlinson of Columbus, Mayor Ted Terry of Clarkston and Jon Ossoff, documentary filmmaker who came within 3.6 points of winning the 6th District special election against Karen Handel in 2017 (to succeed Tom Price).
Money follows Jon Ossoff, who raised nearly $30 million in the 2017 race, the most expensive congressional contest ever. Now this time around within three weeks of announcing, Ossoff raised $800,000, adding to his war chest of about $500,000 left over from the 2017 campaign. He is the highest profile Democrat in the race and will be a formidable contender with his money-raising prowess.
Sen. Perdue, who says a new term would be his last, will have his hands full regardless of which Democrat winds up as his opponent in the general election. The changing demographics — as graphically illustrated in the last two elections — mean Perdue will face a stiff challenge. That goes for the Republican nominee for Isakson’s seat as well and Brian Kemp in his re-election bid. All the old political landmarks are being buffeted by the winds of change.
This is the new reality in Georgia.