- The Washington Times
Monday, February 3, 2020

The Georgia Senate race has quickly gone from crowded to chaotic, with some big names announcing campaigns and already announced candidates amping up the attack volume.

First, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor at the massive Ebenezer Baptist Church that was the spiritual home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., announced he would challenge Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the state’s special election.

Because of the retirement of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia voters will choose both of their senators in November, with the presidential race also on the ballot — a combination that will make Georgia and its 16 electoral votes an even more significant marker on the nation’s political map.

The Rev. Warnock’s announcement, while expected, came one day after Rep. Doug Collins, one of President Trump’s most ardent House defenders, announced that he, too, would seek Ms. Loeffler’s seat.

Mr. Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, was Mr. Trump’s choice to succeed Mr. Isakson, but Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Ms. Loeffler, a successful businesswoman and owner of a WNBA team.

Ms. Loeffler was regarded suspiciously by some when she was picked over Mr. Collins, but she has worked hard since being sworn in last month to shore up her credentials among conservatives generally and Mr. Trump’s backers in particular.

Anyone who thought the race might be a civil affair was disabused of that notion Monday, when Mr. Collins’ camp came out with an advertisement ripping her: “Kelly Loeffler — a pretend farmer with rotten friends.”

The attack ad came after the conservative Club for Growth, which has never been solidly behind Mr. Collins, announced it would spend at least $3 million on ads questioning his votes. The first was his support of the Farm Bill, a position Mr. Collins noted put him on the side of most farmers and the president.

The Club for Growth is a “Washington special interest group” that opposed Mr. Trump in the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Collins’ team reminded voters.

Ms. Loeffler is the daughter of Illinois soybean farmers who made her fortune with Bakkt, the bitcoin market maker.

The Rev. Warnock’s name carries great weight with the black community, but in addition to Republicans, Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Collins, he will have to take on two other Democrats, former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver and Matt Lieberman, an entrepreneur with a famous political name. Both of them say they do not plan to succumb to pressure to pull out of the special election.

The Rev. Warnock has no prior political experience, so observers will be watching to see how well he builds the campaign and fundraising apparatus required to win.

Georgia voters will have all five of those major candidates on the ballot for the special election, a “jungle primary” that will require a runoff of the top two vote-getters if no candidate tops 50% of the count.

Consequently, Democrats believe they have an exceptional chance to pick up a Senate seat since two strong Republican candidates will oppose each other in a campaign on which Ms. Loeffler has already vowed to spend at least $20 million of her own money.

In the other Senate election, incumbent Republican David Perdue appears set to sail to the GOP nomination. He would take on a Democratic candidate chosen from a field that currently includes Jon Ossoff, the media darling of Georgia’s 2017 special House election who ran an unsuccessful campaign backed by mountains of out-of-state cash.

Other declared Democrats seeking to unseat Mr. Perdue are business executive Sarah Riggs Amico, who has lost statewide before, and Teresa Tomlinson, who stepped away voluntarily after two terms as mayor of Columbus.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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