A simmering fight over a Georgia Senate seat has split the state’s Republican Party and now threatens to boil over, to the Democrats’ advantage.
“The battle pits 53-year-old Rep. Doug Collins, a four-term conservative congressman and staunch defender of President Trump, against Sen. Kelly Loeffler, 49, a business executive with no political experience who has tens of millions of dollars of personal funds to spend on a campaign,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
Loeffler was appointed to replace GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons.
But under Georgia law, such appointments are only temporary and candidates to fill out Isakson’s full term must run in the next general election on Nov. 3.
It will be a wide-open contest with both Republican and Democratic candidates seeking Loeffler’s seat. The winner must receive at least 50% of the vote; if no one does, the top two finishers — regardless of party — will face a runoff in January.
Georgia Republicans worry that a lengthy, divisive intraparty fight will harm GOP chances against a Democratic opponent.
And since that, in turn, could threaten Republicans’ thin majority in the U.S. Senate, the national party has stepped in, on Loeffler’s side.
Late last month, within days after Collins declared he would oppose Loeffler, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) pressured campaign vendors hired by Collins to drop him as a client, and at least three did so, the Journal says, citing “two people familiar with the matter.” Campaign vendors are contractors hired by candidates to support their run for office.
According to the Journal, the NRSC went further, warning some of the vendors’ clients (that is, other GOP politicians) to “distance themselves” from Collins if they wanted to work with NRSC again.
“The NRSC’s stance has long been that working for candidates challenging incumbent senators could cost vendors their good standing with the committee, whose mission it is to defend them,” the Journal says.
Both Collins and Loeffler support Trump and he hasn’t endorsed either of them while praising both. But he appears to lean slightly toward Collins, who was a prominent opponent of House Democrats’ successful drive for impeachment.
In any event, the NRSC is going all-out against what it calls Collins’ “emotional, ill-informed decision” to run.
“Doug Collins has united conservatives in opposition to his candidacy and Senator Loeffler has quickly assembled more Republican support in Georgia than Collins ever knew existed,” said NRSC spokesman Jesse Hunt.
Bryan Long, a Georgia Democratic campaign consultant, is positively gleeful over the GOP fight.
“Y’all see who can out-Trump each other,” Long told the Journal. “The Republicans seem to be doing everything they can to help Democrats in this race.”