Kemp criticizes ‘ridiculous’ conservative pushback to Senate favorite

‘The attacks and games are absolutely absurd.’

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

Gov. Brian Kemp rejected the “ridiculous” mounting conservative pushback against his favorite for an open U.S. Senate seat, adding on Wednesday that he would only tap an anti-abortion Republican who backs gun rights and President Donald Trump.

He also suggested in a series of tweets that he was ignoring prominent voices in his own party and that he would make his appointment to the seat vacated by Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is retiring at year’s end, after Thanksgiving.

“The attacks and games are absolutely absurd. Frankly, I could care less what the political establishment thinks. Happy Thanksgiving!” the governor wrote. “More information after the holiday!”

It was Kemp's first public comments about the Senate pick since a spate of reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that detailed the growing pressure on him over his apparent favorite for the seat: Financial executive Kelly Loeffler.

Kemp appears on the verge of tapping Loeffler to the coveted seat, defying Trump’s repeated appeals to go with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins instead.

Kemp accompanied Loeffler to Washington on a secretive trip Sunday to try to win Trump's support, but the meeting ended with both politicians at odds. It was the third time in recent weeks that Trump has directly lobbied Kemp to tap Collins.

Conservative activists have sounded the alarm, worried that she's too moderate -- citing past campaign contributions to Democratic candidates -- and that she's an untested candidate at a time when the GOP can least afford it.

Others have urged patience with Kemp, saying he’s earned the right to pick whoever he wants for the sought-after position.

“Brian Kemp is a lifelong conservative,” said Buzz Brockway, a former state legislator who is a vice president with the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

“Conservatives in Georgia, and across the country, can trust he’ll choose a senator who will hold this seat and grow the Republican Party.”

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A new round of opposition flared up on Wednesday, with a coalition of anti-abortion groups raising sharp concerns about Loeffler, the co-owner of Atlanta’s WNBA franchise who has never run for public office before.

They’ve highlighted her position on the board of Grady Memorial Hospital, the mammoth public health facility, and her contributions to candidates who support abortion rights.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, called Grady a “training ground for abortionists” and said her ties with the hospital should “disqualify her from representing the state in the U.S. Senate.”

Grady, the largest trauma care provider in the state, does not perform elective abortions and hasn’t for at least a decade.

“This moment calls for a Senate candidate with outspoken public pro-life courage like that of the governor,” said Dannenfelser, who referred to Kemp’s support for a new law that seeks to ban most abortions.

That provoked a stinging response from Jay Morgan, a former executive director of the Georgia GOP: “I am astounded that a woman whose job it is to recruit and promote GOP women candidates would engage in character assassination like that.”

Still, Dannenfelser was not alone. A string of other conservative groups raised concerns about Loeffler. Among them was Tom McClusky of March for Life, another anti-abortion organization.

“It would be hugely disappointing if Governor Kemp appoints her to a critical seat in the U.S. Senate,” he said. “After the Senate gains made by conservative and pro-life candidates in the 2018 election, this would be a huge setback."

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Kemp’s advisers hope that Loeffler could help the Georgia GOP appeal to moderate women who have fled the party in droves. Her vast financial wealth – her husband heads the Atlanta-based firm that owns the New York Stock Exchange – means she can also self-finance a campaign.

But Collins’ supporters have embarked on an aggressive campaign to trumpet him as the best candidate to hold the seat in 2020, when a “jungle” special election will feature candidates from all parties on the same ballot with no primary.

And Collins, a four-term congressman who is one of Trump’s most vocal defenders, has fueled the push for his appointment by threatening to run even if he’s not tapped for the job, a move that could trigger a nasty Republican rift in an election year.

In his tweets, Kemp sought to tamp down worries that his pick wouldn’t match up with his own conservative beliefs.

"I stand with hardworking Georgians and @POTUS," he said on Twitter. "The idea that I would appoint someone to the U.S. Senate that is NOT pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, pro-freedom, and 100% supportive of our President (and his plan to Keep America Great) is ridiculous."

“The attacks and games are absolutely absurd. Frankly, I could care less what the political establishment thinks. Happy Thanksgiving! More information after the holiday!”