Georgia’s newly appointed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler began her term in office with a big question hanging over her future: Will popular Congressman Doug Collins challenge her in November’s special election for the final two years of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term ending in 2023?
Collins says he will make a decision soon. On Fox News just a day before Loeffler was sworn in, Collins responded to a question about his future, observing that Gov. Brian Kemp made his choice (by appointing Loeffler to the Senate). “Now we’re looking at ours,” Collins said. “We still got a lot left to do to help this president through this impeachment process. But I want to say to everyone we are looking at it and we’ll be making a decision soon after that. The people have been asking about it. I’ve been listening to the people of Georgia and we’re going to continue to look and make our decision soon.” He gave no indication of how soon he would decide.
Collins applied for the Senate appointment after Kemp opened the door to all comers via a website process. President Trump pressured the governor to appoint Collins, the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee and leader of the Republican fight against impeachment of Trump. Kemp’s choice of Loeffler also did not sit well with rank and file Georgia Republicans as confirmed in a Public Policy Polling survey of likely GOP primary voters after the governor announced his decision. In a head-to-head match-up, Collins was the choice of 56% of Republicans with Loeffler favored by only 16%, while 27% were unsure about a choice.
Confirming the challenge confronting Loeffler was a statewide poll of registered Georgia voters including Democrats, Republicans and independents by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. Released last week as Loeffler began her Senate service, the poll showed 35% approved of Loeffler’s appointment, 29% disapproved and 36% was unsure.
In his favor, Collins has what Loeffler lacks — political experience and strong credentials as a staunch conservative plus other assets. He is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve, serving as chaplain with a two-year tour of duty in Iraq in 2008-09. An attorney, he also earned a master’s degree in divinity from New Orleans Baptist Seminary and for 11 years pastored Chicopee Baptist Church in his hometown of Gainesville. Yet his strongest suit if he decides to run for the Senate is his all-out support of President Trump who remains extremely popular in this state. According to the Public Policy Polling survey, Trump enjoys the approval of 93% of Georgia Republicans.
Loeffler has about 10 months to make her case and sway the voters in her favor. She has the resources as a multi-millionaire businesswoman, having been CEO of Bakkt, a financial services firm providing a regulated market for Bitcoin. Despite the poor showing in recent polls, Loeffler fared well in what might be called a straw poll here in Cobb County. The day before she was sworn in, she appeared at the Cobb Republican Party’s monthly breakfast — which for the first time ever sold out tickets four days in advance and greeted the new senator with an overflow crowd.
“We need the full support of the party, but we also need to welcome new people, and this is part of the reason I put my hand up to serve our state,” she said. “I want to help broaden our party, communicate the values that we have as Republicans and conservatives.” She promised to work hard to “keep our state red and work to support President Trump’s reelection and up and down the ticket,” adding that she looks forward to “earning your support.”
As the Marietta Daily Journal reported: “It appeared Loeffler had already earned the support of many breakfast attendees. A human wave swelled around her as she got up to leave the event, and the short trip from the stage to the exit became a prolonged affair as the incoming senator stopped to shake hands and pose for pictures with supporters.” The reaction by activist Jerry Kotyuk of east Cobb might be instructive as to the view of fellow Republicans. Kotyuk said he wanted to see “how much of a fighter she is; she’s got to fight back. … I want to give her a chance but I’m going to be watching to see how she reacts.” The county GOP chairman, Jason Shepherd, said he thought Georgia Republicans would give Loeffler their support.
Sen. Loeffler has an uphill battle without Congressman Collins in the race. Will he run? If he opts in, the next question is: Will Republican voters split between the candidates and wind up allowing a Democrat to win the special election next November?