Georgia gov seeks applicants for Isakson’s Senate seat

As Gov. Brian Kemp, left, considers who to fill the U.S. Senate seat Johnny Isakson is leaving for health reasons, the governor’s allies have been flooded with messages from potential candidates for the appointment. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Gov. Brian Kemp formally started the process  to select a successor to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson on Tuesday by launching a website that potential applicants must use to apply for the job.

Kemp said applicants seeking to fill Isakson's seat must submit their resume, address and contact information on his office's website. The governor's choice will serve in the Senate next year and will likely be a candidate in a special election in November 2020 to determine who fills out the remainder of Isakson's term.

The website is an attempt to be transparent in vetting potential candidates for the seat, an appointment that will likely be Kemp's most consequential political decision. But it will also put some contenders in a vexing spot.  

Politicians who are not openly jockeying for the position will have to quickly decide whether to apply, since not doing so will take them out of consideration.

It could be a particularly complicated situation for Republicans already seeking other office and private-sector officials who could face blowback from customers, employees and shareholders.

Kemp said in a statement that he and his aides “will carefully vet the applicants and choose a person who best reflects our values, our state and our vision for the future.”

More: An inside look: Who could seek Johnny Isakson's seat in 2020

More: The shadow campaign for Isakson's Senate seat 

'Deep bench’

Isakson's decision to retire at year's end because of medical issues upended Georgia politics by triggering two U.S. Senate races in November 2020. The special election for Isakson's seat will share the ballot with a contest to fill the seat held by U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is seeking a second term.

The governor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he has "no timeline" to tap Isakson's replacement, though he's under pressure to make his selection long before the three-term Republican steps down Dec. 31.

Not only is Kemp’s pick expected to help shape Georgia’s 2020 race, but he or she could also share the ballot with the governor in 2022. To put it another way, Kemp has the chance to pick his own running mate.

"We're being very methodical, obviously hearing from a lot of people that have interest or think to recommend someone to me," Kemp said this week. "There's a deep, deep bench from us to pull from."

Three requirements

Among the potential candidates who could apply are U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, Drew Ferguson and Tom Graves; former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, currently running for the seat in Congress she lost in November; Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, state Attorney General Chris Carr; and U.S. Attorney BJay Pak.

But Kemp seems just as likely to select a Republican who doesn't fit the traditional Georgia GOP mold, such as a business executive, judicial official or law enforcement figure who has never run for statewide office before.

The governor has already surprised critics with his early appointments, including his pick of acting Insurance Commissioner John King, a low-profile local police chief who became the state's first Hispanic constitutional officer. Kemp has also made a string of diverse, history-making selections for judicial posts.

His office said the website will be open to all applicants as long as they meet the three requirements set out in the U.S. Constitution: Each candidate must be 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least nine years and a resident of Georgia.

The dual Senate races also ensure that Georgia will be a 2020 battleground for Democrats, who hope to erase the GOP's 53-47 edge in the chamber. Four Democrats have already lined up to challenge Perdue, and about a dozen others are weighing whether to compete for Isakson's seat.

They include U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath; state Sens. Jen Jordan and Nikema Williams; DeKalb County Chief Executive Michael Thurmond; DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston; the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church; and Lindy Miller, who lost a race last year for the state Public Service Commission.

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