There may be no more important 2020 battleground than Georgia, the blue-trending Sunbelt state where Democrats hope to at least throw a major scare into Donald Trump in November. There will also be at least two competitive U.S. House races in the Peach State, but most tantalizing of all are two pivotal Senate races. Several creditable Democrats are already challenging incumbent Senator David Perdue. And thanks to veteran Republican Johnny Isakson’s health-related resignation at the end of 2019, Georgia will have a rare dual Senate fight.
Under Georgia election law, the state will hold a nonpartisan “jungle primary,” coinciding with the 2020 general election, to fill the remainder of Isakson’s unexpired term (through 2022). If no one wins a majority, there will be a runoff in January of 2021.
During an elaborate period in which Republican governor Brian Kemp asked potential successors to Isakson to apply for the gig, there was intense public and private lobbying from conservative activists, and then from Donald Trump himself, for Kemp to appoint U.S. representative Doug Collins, a MAGA bravo from the intensely Republican North Georgia mountains, who, as the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, was assuming a leading role in the fight against the president’s impeachment. But Kemp, focused on the recent sharp pro-Democratic trend in the Atlanta suburbs, and mindful of his own reelection prospects in 2022 (when the new senator, if she or he survived 2020, would share a ticket with the governor), insisted on appointing a little-known WNBA franchise co-owner, the very wealthy Kelly Loeffler, on the grounds that she could fund her own campaign and improve GOP prospects among the suburban women they’ve been losing.
Collins didn’t give up, though. Encouraged by polls showing him with better and more positive name ID than the new senator, Collins is now officially challenging Loeffler, a bid he announced on the president’s favorite TV show, Fox & Friends:
“We’re in for the Georgia Senate race down here,” Collins said on Fox & Friends. “I’ve still got a lot of work left to do to help this president finish this impeachment out. We’re going to make a bigger announcement down here in Georgia. Y’all have been so kind to ask about it and I want to continue to serve the people of Georgia. We’re getting ready for a good time down here to keep defending this president and keep working for the people of Georgia.”
This challenge pits Collins (and perhaps his buddy the president) against Kemp, and also against Mitch McConnell, whose National Senate Republican Committee made it clear it would defend Loeffler as an incumbent:
A twist in the emerging battle for this Senate seat is a bill being sponsored by Collins’s friends in the state legislature, but also backed by Democrats, who fear a low-turnout January 2021 runoff, to abandon the special jungle primary framework and set up regular party primaries in May. The idea is that Collins will do better among pure partisans for whom the relative viciousness of support for Trump is the main standard. Kemp is threatening to veto this legislation, but with bipartisan support it could become law over his objections.
Loeffler is trying to fight back by expressing her own categorical Trumpiness, going so far as to find an occasion to blast her old friend — and the beneficiary of massive campaign contributions from Loeffler and her husband — Mitt Romney for his openness to hearing from John Bolton in Trump’s impeachment trial. But she’s got a long way to go in any effort to catch up with Collins as a slave to POTUS.
Democrats are immensely enjoying the Collins-Loeffler battle and the tribal intra-GOP conflicts it exemplifies. And there are signs that national and state Democratic leaders are hoping to clear their own field in this contest for Reverend Raphael Warnock, the latest successor to Martin Luther King Jr. as the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. After Stacey Abrams’s near-miss against Kemp in 2018, and given the likelihood that Georgia’s battleground status will lead to an epic minority turnout effort this year, Warnock’s race is no longer considered a bar to a statewide win. But it will certainly help Democrats if two prominent Republicans spend months tearing each other apart and spending money they might need in the ultimate contest.