GA Governor Brian Kemp Defies Trump and Appoints Kelly Loeffler to Fill Vacant Senate Seat

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Fox 5 Atlanta reported Monday afternoon that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) has appointed financial executive Kelly Loeffler to fill the Senate seat which is soon to be vacated by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R). In August, Isakson announced he would be stepping down at the end of the year for health reasons.

President Trump and other Republican leaders have been lobbying the Governor to choose Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, who has served four terms in Congress and has been one of Trump’s greatest defenders. They know Collins would provide a “bulwark against impeachment proceedings” in the Senate. Collins has said that if he is not chosen, he will primary Loeffler in the 2020 “special election” for the seat.

Late last week, it was reported that Kemp’s mind appeared to be made up. Kemp traveled to Washington last Sunday to discuss the replacement for the seat with Trump and brought Loeffler with him. Although White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tried to put a positive spin on the meeting, most reports said it had not gone well and was over quickly.

Kemp won a very narrow victory against Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams in November 2018. (As of September 15, 2019, Abrams had still not officially conceded the race.) The polls had been very tight through Election Day. Although Kemp may have won the race without the President’s support, it is believed that Trump’s endorsement six days prior to the election as well as a Trump rally held only two days before, helped propel him over the finish line. The candidates were apart by 54,723 votes out of a total of 3,939,409 cast, not too far over the threshold which would have triggered a recount.

CNN’s Chris Cilliza interviewed the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s (AJC) Greg Bluestein to get a sense of local politics. Cillizza said, “Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is doing something very rare for Republicans: He’s resisting Donald Trump’s wishes.” Cillizza asked Bluestein why Trump wanted Kemp to appoint Collins so badly. Bluestein cited all of the above mentioned reasons and added that Collins and Trump have grown close over the last three years. Bluestein added:

Trump’s camp probably feels like Kemp owes the President. Kemp may have won last year’s Republican runoff against a better-financed opponent without Trump’s support, but the surprise endorsement six days before the vote fueled his runaway victory. The governor’s critics are all too ready to remind him of that.

Bluestein thinks Kemp’s narrow victory may be precisely the reason he chose Loeffler. He said:

Abrams came within a whisker of forcing a runoff against Kemp by blazing a blue streak across the north Atlanta suburbs where Republicans once dominated. She did this by winning over college-educated women in the ‘burbs, along with energizing African-American voters and liberals in the party’s base.

With Loeffler, who would be the second female US senator in Georgia history, Kemp is trying to expand the Georgia GOP’s appeal to those moderate and independent voters who have fled the Republican fold. He’ll probably cast it as the latest of history-making appointments that have surprised even his critics.

But more than 2020 is at stake here. Kemp’s pick will not only be on next year’s ballot to fill out the remaining two years of Johnny Isakson’s term, but also potentially on the ticket with him in 2022 — when the governor stands for reelection and could face Abrams in a rematch.

That means Kemp essentially gets to pick his own running mate. He’s betting that a multi-millionaire executive and co-owner of Atlanta’s WNBA franchise who can self-finance her own campaign and can broaden the party’s tent even while keeping conservatives at peace.

On Friday, a senior state GOP official told AJC that Kemp believes the selection of a woman will appeal to women “who have fled the party in recent years.”

AJC reported that the state’s Republican Party has been “dominated by white male elected officials.” This is no small thing. Amazingly, Loeffler’s appointment would mark only the second time the state has sent a woman to represent them in the U.S. Senate. According to AJC, in 1922, “Rebecca Latimer Felton served for one day in the chamber in 1922 following the death of  Sen. Tom Watson.”

Moreover, Loeffler and her husband are quite wealthy and it is expected that she will spend some of her personal fortune on the race for reelection. According to AJC, Loeffler “runs the Bakkt bitcoin trading platform that’s a subsidiary of the Intercontinental Exchange, the behemoth Atlanta-based financial firm headed by her husband. She is also a co-owner of Atlanta’s WNBA franchise.”

There are several reasons why many Republicans are lukewarm toward the soon-to-be Sen. Loeffler.

Penny Young Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America (CWA), tweeted:

She (Loeffler) sits on the board of a hospital in Atlanta that employs five abortionists and actually runs the largest training program for abortionists in GA. She is also part owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. The WNBA has been an outspoken supporter of Planned Parenthood, even partnering with the pro-abortion organization in opposing pro-life policies. Also she has given thous of $$ in campaign contrib to liberal and pro-abortion candidates. There are better choices for Gov.Kemp 4 the next U.S. Senator from GA. He has a list of fantastic pro-life candidates. We hope he doesn’t pick the one the pro-life community will oppose.

The Wall Street Journal reported that she and her husband also contributed more than $750,000 in 2012 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

The special election presents a problem for Republicans because all candidates, Democratic or Republican, will appear on the same ballot. AJC explains:

If multiple well-funded Republicans enter the contest, they could slice up the GOP base, providing an opportunity for a Democrat with his or her party’s unified support. The state Democratic Party has yet to identify such a candidate. “But several lower-profile contenders have entered the race, including Matt Lieberman, an educator and entrepreneur who is the son of former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. “At this point, whatever pick Kemp makes will be significantly damaged,” party spokesman Alex Floyd said, “forced to limp into November 2020 facing inflamed tensions and internal fights at a time when Georgia Republicans can’t afford either.

In a letter to Kemp, Loeffler wrote, “If chosen, I will stand with President Trump, Senator David Perdue, and you to Keep America Great.” She and her husband contributed $200,000 earlier this month to the RNC to participate in a Trump roundtable in Atlanta. In her Senate application, she wrote that she shares “Kemp’s priorities to strengthen the border, shutdown drug cartels and human traffickers, lower healthcare costs, and protect our national interests.”

And the conflict has escalated on Twitter in recent days as well.

Governor Kemp has made his decision. We’ll see if Collins can defeat Loeffler in the 2020 special election.



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