Congressman Doug Collins finally decided to challenge Georgia’s freshly appointed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler for the seat held formerly by Johnny Isakson, setting up a bruising, divisive battle between two Republicans instead of the party’s coalescing behind one candidate.
Will Collins and Loeffler “tear each other apart and open up the seat for a Democrat?” Answering that question on Fox News, Collins said: “No. We’re not concerned about that at all. I’m concerned about going to the people of Georgia. We just need to have a process that lets people decide, lets them choose for themselves how they want to see this vision.”
Collins’ candidacy drew a blistering denouncement by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which backs Loeffler. “The shortsightedness in this decision is stunning,” said NRSC Executive Director Kevin McLaughlin. “Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come.” Moreover, the NRSC official said Collins had “put two Senate seats, multiple House seats and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play.” The NRSC reiterated its firm support for Loeffler.
There already was a backlash from the Republican base in Georgia over Gov. Brian Kemp’s naming Loeffler to the Senate instead of Collins, who sought the appointment with the backing of President Trump. That undoubtedly helped fuel Collins’ decision. In anticipation of him entering the race, a committee of the Georgia House — where Collins served six years plus four years in the Senate — approved a bill in a bipartisan vote to junk the special election “jungle” primary open to all candidates as required by state law and instead restore the traditional party primaries in May leading to a November general election between primary winners. This change aims at giving an advantage to Collins who leads political unknown Loeffler in Republican preference polls.
Support for Collins by House Speaker David Ralston, who hails from the north Georgia domain of the congressman, could move the bill through the House. But even if the measure should muster enough votes to pass both the House and Senate, Kemp would veto it. A spokesperson for the governor said: “You don’t change the rules at halftime to benefit one team over another.” This kind of sword crossing is not going to improve Kemp’s effectiveness in the Legislature.
What role will Trump play in this Senate race? Presumably, he will endorse Collins, a longtime staunch supporter who has waged an all-out fight against impeachment of the president as the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee. Trump would be expected to campaign for Collins in Georgia where the president enjoys an approval rating of more than 90% among Republicans. That could offset Loeffler’s advantage in financial resources. At the same time, Loeffler seems to be in good standing with Trump. On the day of Collins’ announcement, the president made a point of singling out Loeffler at a White House ceremony for the signing of the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. “Congratulations, Kelly. They really like you a lot,” the president said. “That’s what the word is.” Afterward, a grateful Loeffler — who strongly supports Trump — tweeted, “Thanks for the shoutout, @realDonaldTrump.” Such comity notwithstanding, don’t look for Trump to switch horses.
Now Loeffler and Collins will be attacking each other to the benefit of the Democrats who are licking their chops over the prospects of making new inroads in Georgia — not the scenario envisioned by Kemp. He wanted a fresh face candidate who could broaden the GOP base particularly among metro Atlanta suburban women who have trended toward Democrats in recent elections. That goal and Kemp’s hopes of bringing the Republican Party together behind Loeffler are gone with the wind.