Dec. 6, 2019 — As expected, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) announced that businesswoman Kelly Loeffler is his choice to succeed Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) when Isakson resigns at the end of the year due to health problems.
Also, in Washington state, four-term Rep. Denny Heck (D-Olympia) announced that he will not seek re-election. In a released statement, while criticizing President Trump, Heck indicated that the ongoing investigations of which he has been a part as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, has caused him to become weary.
Loeffler’s pick is somewhat controversial among Republicans since President Trump and many state conservative leaders were publicly backing Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) for the seat. Additionally, the congressman has hinted in media interviews that running against the appointed senator in the 2020 special election to fill the balance of the term is not out of the realm of possibility.
Conservatives are expressing doubt about Loeffler, citing her past donations to certain Democratic candidates, support for Planned Parenthood, and weakness, from their perspective, on other social issues. For her part, Loeffler is pledging full support to passing the Trump agenda and voting to approve additional federal judges and Trump Administration appointments.
Loeffler will serve throughout 2020 and be eligible to compete in the special election to serve the final two years of Sen. Isakson’s term. The governor has scheduled a jungle primary to run concurrently with the 2020 general election. If no candidate receives majority support on Nov. 3, then the top two finishers will advance to a run-off election on Jan. 5. Should the general election go badly for Senate Republicans, it’s possible that the Georgia run-off could determine majority control.
So far, the most prominent Democratic candidate is businessman Matt Lieberman, the son of former vice presidential nominee and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, but that may soon change now that the appointment has been made official and the possibility of an intra-Republican battle looms.
Analysis reports suggest the governor appointed Loeffler in part because he felt she could jump-start the Republicans’ effort to bolster the party’s lagging support among suburban working women. It may, however, be a stretch to think that individuals within this demographic will identify with Loeffler.
Considering that her husband is Jeffrey Sprecher, the New York Stock Exchange chairman; and founder, chairman, and CEO of the Intercontinental Exchange; and the couple’s status as one of the richest families in Georgia, it’s going to be difficult to cast the new Senator as something other than a person of wealth and privilege, the very group that will be the subject of the Democrats’ central wealth inequality attack in the coming campaign year.
Furthermore, history has repeatedly shown that voters generally do not support a candidate simply because of gender or even race, and we only have to review the 2016 general election to see that a majority of white women voted to support President Trump over a Democratic candidate who would have become the first female president in history.
Furthermore, we merely need to turn the political clock back to 2017 and look next door to Alabama to see a situation where GOP voters rejected a similar insider appointed senator in then-Attorney General Luther Strange. He, of course, despite having a huge financial advantage and national party backing, would lose the nomination to former state Supreme Court Chief Judge Roy Moore, who then lost the special general to current Sen. Doug Jones (D).
It is clear that Rep. Collins is a far superior candidate in comparison to Judge Moore, so such a Georgia special election race would be highly competitive even if reports are accurate that Loeffler will spend $20 million of her own money to finance her campaign.
And, with such a dynamic in the special jungle primary, the chance of a strong Democratic candidate advancing into what will be a sure run-off election becomes probable, thus putting the seat in danger. The Georgia candidate filing deadline is March 6, so Rep. Collins will have until that time to decide if he will enter the Senate campaign.
Heck represents the relatively compact 10th District, which sits south of Seattle and encompasses parts of Pierce, Thurston, and Morgan Counties, stretching northeast from the state capital region in Olympia to capture the city of Puyallup.
The 10th is a reliably Democratic district but could conceivably become competitive in a favorable Republican year. Considering that the Trump campaign is conceding the state, it is unlikely that the GOP will see the dynamics form to give them a serious chance of winning the seat in 2020, however. Therefore, a credible Democratic qualifier coming from the Aug. 4 jungle primary should become a prohibitive favorite to win the general election.
With Rep. Heck’s retirement and the looming resignation of California Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine/San Diego County), who pled guilty to a campaign finance charge earlier in the week, the House open seat count will rise to 34, including 23 Republican-held seats and now 11 that Democrats control. Since Heck’s decision comes as a surprise, it will take some time for the open-seat candidate field to fully form, especially with the Washington candidate filing deadline not scheduled until May 15.