Republicans Are Bracing for Civil War Over a Senate Seat in the South ... Again

Stop us if you've heard this one before.
January 29, 2020, 4:36pm
Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), near the Senate Subway, discussing the impeachment trial.

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This may ring some bells: Republicans are gearing up for a contentious primary pitting a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump against a safer, more establishment-friendly pick. This time, it’s happening in Georgia.

On Wednesday, Rep. Doug Collins said he would seek the Senate seat currently occupied by Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Collins is the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the impeachment defense squad.

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“We’re in for the Georgia Senate race down here,” Collins said in an appearance on "Fox & Friends." “We’re getting ready for a good time down here to defend the president.”

Loeffler was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and sworn in earlier this month to replace longtime Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired at the end of 2019 due to health issues. Prior to Loeffler’s appointment, Trump personally asked Kemp to appoint Collins, and top Trump allies also pushed him to.

Loeffler, a businesswoman from Atlanta and a top Republican donor, has previously said she plans to spend $20 million on the 2020 race. Loeffler’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

READ: Democrats Just Got Another Path to Senate Control — Through Georgia

"Fox & Friends" asked Collins if he was concerned that he and Loeffler would “tear each other apart and open up the seat for a Democrat.” Collins responded: “No, we’re not concerned about that at all.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the GOP, doesn’t agree.

“All he has done is put two Senate seats, multiple House seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play,” NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin said in a statement provided to the Washington Post. (In addition to the special election, Sen. David Perdue is running for reelection.) “The NRSC stands firmly behind Sen. Kelly Loeffler and urges anyone who wants to reelect President Trump, hold the GOP Senate majority, and stop socialism to do the same.”

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Collins later shot back at the NRSC in a tweet:

Groups like the NRSC and their Democratic counterparts exist primarily to protect incumbents and help challengers win contested seats. (The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is backing Sen. Ed Markey against a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Kennedy, for example.) But it’s not every day that an institutional Republican group implies that a candidate is too much of a right-wing radical for Georgia.

READ: Impeachment Is On

But there’s cause for the NRSC to worry. In 2016, Trump carried the state by just five points, and in 2018, Democrat Stacey Abrams very nearly became the first black woman elected governor of any American state in an election that was tarred by allegations of voter suppression.

Democrats, meanwhile, have their own problems: namely, finding a candidate. While Abrams was recruited by Senate Democratic leaders to run for Perdue’s seat prior to Isakson’s retirement, she’s declined to run for any office this year and chosen, instead, to focus on voter protection efforts. After Loeffler’s appointment was announced, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates reiterated that she wouldn’t run. Former House candidate Jon Ossoff is running for Perdue’s seat, as is former Columbus, Georgia, Mayor Tessa Tomlinson.

With Abrams and Yates out of the mix, just a few candidates have declared for Loeffler’s seat, most notably businessman Matt Lieberman (son of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman) and former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver. If all else fails, there’s a Sunday school substitute teacher in western Georgia who might want to give it a shot.

Cover image: January 27, 2020 - Washington, DC, United States: U.S. Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), near the Senate Subway, discussing the impeachment trial. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)