Rep. Doug Collins' announcement last week that he intends to run for the U.S. Senate seat formally held by Sen. Johnny Isakson has set off a firestorm of political scrambling in Northeast Georgia.
Collins' U.S. House 9th District covers most of Northeast Georgia, including Jackson County. Only minutes after Collins announced his Senate bid, State Sen. John Wilkinson announced plans to run for Collins' seat in the House. Wilkinson's state senate District 50 seat covers a part of Jackson County.
Less than 24 hours after Wilkinson made his announcement, Stacy Hall, chairman of the Habersham County Board of Commissioners, announced his plans to run for Wilkinson's state senate seat, saying "our North Georgia way of life is under attack."
This week, Jefferson native Andy Garrison announced he was also running for Wilkinson's seat.
Others are likely to also throw their hats into the ring for both the 9th District Congressional seat and for the state senate District 50 seat.
COLLINS VS. LOEFFLER
While that jockeying for political position in the state was going on, Collins quickly faced a backlash from Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp in December to replace Isakson until an election is held Nov. 3.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, a group that supports incumbent Republican senators, issued a press release blasting Collins.
“The shortsightedness in this decision is stunning," said the NRSC. "Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come. All he has done is put two senate seats, multiple house seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play. The NRSC stands firmly behind Sen. Kelly Loeffler..."
For her part, Loeffler has moved to the right and strongly embraced President Donald Trump while attacking Collins as a "career politician."
"Kelly Loeffler grew up on a farm, worked her way through college, and built a successful career in business," said her campaign. "She's a conservative outsider, not a career politician, who is willing to challenge Washington's wasteful ways to keep our state and country moving in the right direction."
Loeffler has repeated that idea several times that she isn't a "career politician," a phrase clearly designed to frame Collins as just another Washington insider.
For his part, Collins has called Loeffler a "pretend farmer."
The long knives are coming out in that race.
THE TRUMP CARD
The showdown between Collins and Loeffler could be influenced if Trump decides to inject himself into the race. Collins has been one of Trump's strongest defenders in Congress and has become a regular on Fox News shows defending Trump. That has played well in the 9th District, which is one of the most Republican districts east of the Mississippi River.
But Loeffler has also been striving to show her loyalty to Trump, issuing a number of news releases supporting the president and opposing the impeachment effort. And Loeffler has the support — and political backing — of Gov. Kemp and his political machinery across the state. In addition, Loeffler is independently wealthy and given her incumbent status, could raise far more money than Collins.
Perhaps by proxy, the Loeffler-Collins race could become a showdown between Trump and Kemp and which one has the most sway with voters in Georgia. While Kemp is already working to shore up support for Loeffler, Trump has not yet indicated if he will throw his weight behind Collins, or if he will embrace Loeffler since she is a woman politician who could help Trump with suburban female voters in Georgia, a key group of voters in a state that is Red but teetering on Purple.
DEMOCRATS AT THE TABLE
Complicating this race further is that the special election to fill Isakson's Senate seat will be non-partisan, meaning that both Democrats and Republicans will be on the ticket Nov. 3.
The intra-party fight between Collins and Loeffler could give Democrats an opening in that race, if they rally behind a strong Democratic contender.
So far, only the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church has thrown his hat into the Senate race for Democrats. Although lacking name recognition compared to Loeffler and Collins, he has the support of Stacey Abrams, whose state and national standings could generate publicity and money for Warnock.