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Georgia’s Collins to challenge newly sworn-in GOP senator

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, emerges from a conference room working with other allies of President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Collins announced Wednesday that he's running for the U.S. Senate seat held by a fellow Republican sworn in just weeks ago, GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, emerges from a conference room working with other allies of President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Collins announced Wednesday that he's running for the U.S. Senate seat held by a fellow Republican sworn in just weeks ago, GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)AP/Associated Press

ATLANTA — US Representative Doug Collins announced Wednesday that he’s running for the US Senate seat held by a fellow Republican sworn in just weeks ago, potentially dividing the Georgia party while making allegiance to President Trump even more of a key issue in this year’s campaigns.

‘‘We’re ready for a good time down here to keep defending this president,’’ Collins said as he announced his Senate bid on “Fox & Friends.”

GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler, a political newcomer and wealthy businesswoman, was appointed to fill the vacant seat by Govenor Brian Kemp, in part for her ability to appeal to a wider range of general election voters, particularly suburban women. Republicans still dominate Georgia politics, but Democrats have been gaining ground in recent elections.

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Collins, 53, enters the race as one of Trump’s most vocal defenders in the House. He waved off concerns that he and Loeffler, 49, will tear each other apart and open the door for a Democrat to take the seat.

“That’s just wrong and we’re going to continue to make our case,” Collins told reporters in Washington. He said he spoke to Kemp before announcing his campaign, but didn’t answer when asked whether he had spoken with Trump.

Collins was Trump’s pick for the seat, but Kemp went with Loeffler to replace the recently retired Republican Senator Johnny Isakson.

Kemp has promised to fight for Loeffler during her debut campaign. Her other allies include the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which issued a statement lambasting Collins’s “shortsightedness” and “selfishness.’’

The committee’s statement said Collins would endanger the ability of the Republicansto carry Georgia for Trump and reelect GOP Senator David Perdue. Those races will share the Nov. 3 ballot with the special election to fill the last two years of Isakson’s term.

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“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 the statement.

Isakson’s retirement from the Senate at the end of December set up a political scramble for his seat. Collins openly lobbied for the appointment, with support from Trump. Kemp’s choice of Loeffler to serve until a November special election outraged Trump loyalists, who perceived it as defiance of the president.

The decision by the four-term lawmaker could complicate the GOP’s chances of holding onto the seat as Republicans battle to retain their Senate majority in November’s elections.

Though still not well known to many Georgia voters, Loeffler has pledged to spend $20 million of her own money on the campaign. She’s already airing TV and online ads that play up her support for Trump and emphasize her roots growing up on a farm.

“I’ve only been in Washington a few weeks, and it’s even worse than you thought,” Loeffler says in an ad that launched hours before Collins’s announcement.

Meanwhile, Kemp is working to bolster support for his Senate appointee. Speaking Wednesday to a lunch hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Kemp compared Loeffler to “political outsider” businessmen-turned-politicians such as Trump and Perdue.

“She’s unapologetically prolife, she supports our president, and she supports a great business environment,” Kemp told the group. Asked by a reporter about Collins as he left the event, Kemp kept walking and did not answer.

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Without opposition from fellow Republicans, Loeffler would have been able to focus more on issues such as the economy and health care to win over independents and moderates “who make up the margin of victory in Georgia,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican political adviser who served as communications director under former Georgia Governor Nathan Deal.

“It is a seismic difference in strategy calculations now’’ that Collins is in the race, Robinson said.