With the presidential election heading toward what seems to be an almost inevitable conclusion, maintaining control of the Senate will increasingly occupy Republican efforts.
One of the states that will determine who controls the Senate is Georgia, which is holding two races, one being the special election to complete the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. That race features four-term Rep. Doug Collins trying to defeat newly appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler and at least five other candidates.
Mr. Collins, a staunch conservative and a defender of the president, is currently a senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. Ms. Loeffler was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp for reasons known best to himself, and despite the fact that President Trump had made known his preference for Mr. Collins.
In this special election, all candidates will run on one ballot, and if no one gets 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will run against each other.
That may be critical this year. In a field of seven candidates, Mr. Collins is the clear front-runner, routinely polling about 20 points ahead of Ms. Loeffler.
If Ms. Loeffler stays in the race, she may siphon off enough support from Mr. Collins to drive him into a Jan. 5 runoff. But If she exits the race, Mr. Collins — who is currently polling between 35% and 40% — could consolidate Republican and conservative support and win the election outright on Nov. 3.
The stakes are very high. Given the other Senate contests around the nation, a January 2021 runoff election in Georgia may well determine who controls the U.S. Senate. Try to imagine what kinds of money and attention will pour into that race if it decided control of the Senate. What sort of incentives will the Democrats have to engage in marginally legal (or outright illegal) election activity?
Ms. Loeffler is unlikely to win at this point. Her polling has been stranded at 14-15% for the entire campaign, and she got her feet tangled right out of the gate by appearing to trade on information received as part of a coronavirus briefing to senators. While the Department of Justice recently dropped the matter, the aftertaste remains.
For his part, Mr. Collins has a lifetime rating of 88 from the American Conservative Union and was given a lifetime achievement award at the 2020 CPAC, so it is no accident that the ACU endorsed him in late June, despite pressure from national Republicans who have a standing preference for sitting senators, irrespective of their provenance.
Money raised is an important indicator of extent and intensity of support. Despite the Republican campaign apparatus blocking him in Washington, and the Kemp team blocking him in Georgia, Mr. Collins has managed to raise about $2.5 million and has about $2.2 million cash on hand. Those numbers will grow when the next quarter’s numbers are reported. Ms. Loeffler has managed to raise $11.6 million, but most of that ($10.1 million) is her personal money.
Moreover, the track record of appointed senators in getting elected has not been great. Since World War II, there have been 21 appointed Republican senators. Ten ran for and won for reelection on their own, but 11 either did not run (5) or lost (6). The numbers are worse for Democrats; nine won reelection on their own, seven lost, and 11 did not run.
These numbers compare with a reelection rate north of 80% for senators seeking re-election.
In this cycle, it is very possible that two appointed senators will lose their reelection effort and Ms. Loeffler is probably going to be one of them (the other being Republican Martha McSally in Arizona). The only question that remains is whether Ms. Loeffler will help Georgia, the nation, and herself and step aside prior to the election.
Mr. Collins can win on Nov. 3. His doing so would improve the chances of the Republicans holding the Senate, whatever happens at the top of the ticket.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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