Collins’ bid for Senate opens up another Georgia House seat

Who could run? A radio host, powerful lawmakers and an ex-congressman

Another U.S. House seat in Georgia will be up for grabs now that Rep. Doug Collins is challenging Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and an eclectic cast of characters will soon be jockeying for the deeply-conservative seat he's held since his 2012 election.

Among the possible contenders for the north Georgia district are a well-known radio host, a few powerful state lawmakers, the longtime top aide to Gov. Nathan Deal and a former congressman who once unsuccessfully challenged Collins.

State Sen. John Wilkinson of Toccoa became the first to enter the race, announcing his candidacy just minutes after Collins made his Senate bid official. He called himself an “experienced, conservative voice willing to stand up” for north Georgia.

And political newcomers could also join the hunt for the Georgia 9th District, which covers a mountainous corner of northwest Georgia so reliably Republican that Collins captured nearly 80% of the vote in 2018 against a Democratic challenger.

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One of the more likely candidates is former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, who once represented portions of the district in Congress before redistricting in 2012. Broun ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2014 and was trounced by Collins in a 2016 primary.

In a brief interview, Broun said he lives in Towns County in the northern part of the district and is weighing whether to make a comeback bid.

Another former Collins rival, radio commentator Martha Zoller, could also seek the seat. After she was defeated by Collins in a 2012 runoff, Zoller has worked for both U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Gov. Brian Kemp, and recently launched a new Gainesville-based radio show.

Chris Riley, who spent decades as Deal’s top deputies, also fielded calls from supporters urging him to run. While he didn’t rule it out, he said he was committed to “helping our friends who are seriously considering and helped make the Deal Administration successful.”

Several prominent state legislators could enter the race, including state Rep. Kevin Tanner, who heads the powerful Transportation Committee, and state Rep. Emory Dunahoo.

One potential contender who sounded unlikely to run is Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller. The Gainesville Republican said late Monday his focus is on his state Senate district and his role as one of the chamber’s most powerful figures.

“While I am honored and humbled to be mentioned among potential U.S. House candidates, the likelihood of me running for Congress is very low.”

It’s the third open U.S. House seat in Georgia on the November ballot. U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall said he wouldn’t stand for another term after winning the tightest House race in the nation in 2018, and more than a dozen candidates from both parties are running for his Gwinnet-based seat.

And U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, the senior-most Republican in the state’s delegation, announced his retirement late last year, triggering a wide-open race to represent the solidly Republican district.