If you thought the gubernatorial race brought a deluge of outside money and attention to Georgia, just wait until 2020.
Not only will Georgia be a likely battleground state with President Donald Trump on the ballot, but Democrats are also preparing to challenge Republican David Perdue as he competes for a second term in the U.S. Senate.
No Democrats have stepped forward yet to formally challenge Perdue, but several would-be opponents have publicly acknowledged they’re seriously considering it.
And most leading candidates will likely wait until Stacey Abrams decides; she seems more likely to aim for a 2022 rematch against Brian Kemp, but she hasn’t ruled out a Senate bid.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue
Details: The 68-year-old was a political neophyte when he announced his bid to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss in 2013, albeit one with deep pockets and a famous last name (former Gov. Sonny Perdue is his first cousin). Perdue’s anti-establishment message and country boy-turned-CEO image resonated with voters, and the Republican indicated he plans to revive those motifs as he ramps up his 2020 reelection bid. Since arriving in Washington in early 2015, Perdue has prioritized overhauling the sputtering federal budget process, bolstering the Pentagon and loosening the grip of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul. He’s also closely aligned himself with Trump, sticking by the commander-in-chief even in his most isolating moments. His formidable political network includes officials in the top rungs of Washington and Georgia politics, including Agriculture chief Sonny Perdue, outgoing Mike Pence Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, state GOP chairman John Watson and Kemp.
Status: He’s running, and has been quietly rebuilding his campaign infrastructure over the past year. His campaign already has $1.2 million in the bank, and held a major fundraiser in December.
Other potential GOP candidates: No prominent Republican is likely to challenge Perdue, but several lesser-known contenders could jump in. Derrick Grayson, a perennial candidate and self-styled “Minister of Truth,” has created a 2020 Facebook group.
Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams
Details: The onetime Georgia House minority leader, 44, would immediately become the Democratic frontrunner should she enter the Senate race. Abrams’ bid to make history as the nation’s first African-American female governor made her a national star, attracting unprecedented levels of fundraising, even though she ultimately lost to Republican Brian Kemp. Her unapologetically progressive campaign for governor focused heavily on engaging disenfranchised voters, helping her net more votes than any other Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia’s history. Abrams said she wants to run for office again, and party leaders - including some on this list - hope she challenges Perdue rather than wait for 2022 for a rematch against Kemp. The former attorney already has political machinery in place should she choose to run again: several senior members of her 2018 campaign team have joined her new voting rights group, Fair Fight Georgia.
Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson
Details: Perhaps no Georgia Democrat has signaled their interest in the Senate seat as vigorously as Tomlinson, 53, who is stepping down from her city hall gig in January after two terms in office. The lawyer has created a glossy personal website that doesn’t overtly mention any political ambitions but emphasizes her accomplishments, biography and recent speeches. Tomlinson has presented herself as a progressive who can also appeal to parts of rural Georgia where Democrats got clobbered in the midterms. She’s also taken jabs at Perdue in recent media appearances, slamming him for being “not particularly accessible” to constituents and discussing her own fundraising prowess.
Status: Tomlinson says she has yet made a decision about a run, but she’s said she’s seriously weighing a bid.
Pastor Raphael Warnock
Details: Warnock, 49, is a leading voting-rights advocate and the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, the historic Atlanta church that was once led by Martin Luther King Jr. He flirted with a Senate bid in 2016 before deciding to stay in the pulpit. Warnock’s supporters see him as an outsider who could forcefully denounce Trump while exciting the state’s black electorate much like Abrams did with an unabashedly liberal platform. From his pulpit at Ebenezer, Warnock has blasted a controversial gun rights bill, called on Republicans to expand Medicaid, pushed for more muscular voting rights laws and led efforts to register more left-leaning black voters. He also chairs Abrams’ voter registration organization, the New Georgia Project.
Status: He hasn’t ruled out a bid.
Former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff
Details: The 31-year-old former congressional aide built a national name for himself in last year’s blockbuster 6th District special election. Ossoff ultimately lost to Republican Karen Handel but built up an impressive fundraising list in the process, one he used in to help suburban congressional candidates like Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux in 2018. Since the special election, Ossoff has returned to his documentary filmmaking company but has also been testing the political waters. He recently struck a populist tone at a town hall in rural Habersham County – worlds away from the well-off Atlanta suburbs that make up the 6th District – and penned an op-ed in the British newspaper The Guardian railing against dark money in recent Public Service Commission race.
Status: Ossoff hasn’t ruled out a Senate bid but has also signaled he’s waiting on Abrams, who he’s encouraged to run.
Former state Sen. Jason Carter
Details: The Atlanta attorney and ex-state legislator was defeated by Gov. Nathan Deal in the 2014 race for Georgia’s top job, but he’s stayed active politically since then. Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, made expanding Medicaid and boosting school funding the heartbeat of his campaign while also pushing a centrist approach on Second Amendment debates. The 43-year-old has made clear that he’s likely to run for higher office once more.
Status: Unlikely, but he hasn’t ruled it out.
Sarah Riggs Amico, business executive
Details: An auto executive and political newcomer, Amico was defeated by Republican Geoff Duncan in 2018 in the race for lieutenant governor. She focused her campaign on a vow to expand the Medicaid program and oppose “religious liberty” measures. On the campaign trail, she described herself as a pro-choice, evangelical Christian and former Republican who attends a non-denominational church in Cobb County. Raised in rural Missouri and trained at Harvard Business School, she is the executive chair of Jack Cooper Holdings Corp, a Cobb-based trucking and logistics firm.
Status: She hasn’t ruled it out.
State Rep. Scott Holcomb
Details: The attorney and U.S. Army veteran, 46, has picked a string of social media fights with Perdue, who he delights in calling an “empty suit who does what he’s told by an unpopular and weak president.” In the Georgia House, he represents a district that includes parts of Gwinnett and DeKalb counties. Holcomb received national attention from late night talk show host Samantha Bee in 2017 for his role in passing legislation to require the processing of thousands of rape kits.
Status: He hasn’t ruled it out.
Other potential Democratic candidates:
Former state Rep. Doug Teper, a top ally to Roy Barnes in the early 2000s, is ruminating on a run. Several lesser-known candidates have filed fundraising paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, including Marckeith DeJesus, a financial counselor who lost two recent bids for the state Legislature. Stockbridge High School teacher Akhenaten Hotep Amun has also filed papers, as has Elaine Whigham Williams, a pastor who ran for president in 2016.
Democrats who have ruled themselves out:
Clifton Kilby has filed fundraising papers to run as an Independent, but no information about him was immediately available. A retired police officer with the same name ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in Forsyth County, N.C., this year.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.