Qualifying week: A surge of candidates run for office in Georgia

March 2, 2020 - Atlanta - Former state representative and candidate for governor Stacey Evans greets Democratic colleagues in line for qualifying.  She is running for representative in district 57.  A large turnout by both Democrats and Republicans on the first day of election qualifying resulted in long lines of politicians waiting to sign in.   Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
March 2, 2020 - Atlanta - Former state representative and candidate for governor Stacey Evans greets Democratic colleagues in line for qualifying. She is running for representative in district 57. A large turnout by both Democrats and Republicans on the first day of election qualifying resulted in long lines of politicians waiting to sign in. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Almost as soon as qualifying in Georgia opened, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins filed paperwork to run against each other in Georgia’s free-for-all Senate race.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue also quickly made his intention to run for a second term formal, too, as he stood at the head of a long line of Republican candidates.

And U.S. Rep. John Lewis, recently diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer, signed up to run for an 18th term, telling reporters he’s feeling “stronger and stronger.”

The Georgia Statehouse is already a hive of activity with lawmakers in the middle of a tense legislative session. But it took on a circus-like atmosphere with a week of qualifying that began Monday.

Election 2020: Track who has qualified for Georgia's 2020 elections

Over the next five days, hundreds of candidates will line up to fill out paperwork and pay fees to run for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats, 14 U.S. House seats and all 236 seats in the Georgia General Assembly.

Four prominent challengers have vowed to run against Loeffler, who was recently appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp. And Perdue faces at least three well-known Democrats. Three open U.S. House seats have already attracted droves of contenders.

Pressure will mount on some would-be challengers to duck out of the races. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who recently dismissed President Donald Trump's overture for a Cabinet appointee, was one of the first in line Monday to challenge Loeffler.

200302-ATLANTA-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) is introduced by Gov. Brian Kemp after qualifying to run for the U.S. Senate Monday morning March 2, 2020 at the Georgia State Capitol. BenGray.com / Special
200302-ATLANTA-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) is introduced by Gov. Brian Kemp after qualifying to run for the U.S. Senate Monday morning March 2, 2020 at the Georgia State Capitol. BenGray.com / Special

Credit: Ben@bengray.com

Credit: Ben@bengray.com

Many of these rivals bumped into each other this week in the crowded halls of the Statehouse as they qualify, adding an element of awkwardness to the politicking under the Gold Dome.

Other surprises could jostle Georgia’s top races.

Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate, only announced her plan to run for Congress in 2018 hours before she qualified for the seat. Now she's the incumbent Democratic congresswoman for one of the South's most competitive districts.

More long-serving incumbents could join the growing list of veteran politicians who have decided not to run for another term. And contenders could switch from one contest to another, or drop out altogether.

We'll be updating this page throughout the week to keep up with who is qualifying.

And below we’ll have breakouts on the key figures as they qualify this week:

March 2, 2020 - Atlanta - Congressman Doug Collins, R-Ga., talks with the media after he signed in at the Secretary of States office to qualify  for the special election to fill Sen. Johnny Isakson's former seat. A large turnout by both Democrats and Republicans on the first day of election qualifying resulted in long lines of politicians waiting to sign in.   Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
March 2, 2020 - Atlanta - Congressman Doug Collins, R-Ga., talks with the media after he signed in at the Secretary of States office to qualify for the special election to fill Sen. Johnny Isakson's former seat. A large turnout by both Democrats and Republicans on the first day of election qualifying resulted in long lines of politicians waiting to sign in. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Georgia Senate-Loeffler

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins wanted there to be no doubt about his intentions. He pre-empted a planned press conference with U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler shortly after he filed his paperwork, declaring “bring it on” to the incumbent and her allies.

“You can spend your millions, but we’re going to have debates. In fact, let’s have a lot of debates. Let’s have them all over the state,” said Collins. “Because ideas matter, and I have no problem with my ideas, and what I’ve done for the state of Georgia.”

Not long after, Loeffler stood beside Gov. Brian Kemp and her husband, Jeff Sprecher, to insist on a “positive message for Georgians” focused on supporting President Donald Trump.

“I’m working on uniting Republicans so that we win this state. This state should not be at risk. I will not let it be a risk. You’ll see by my work in Washington, that the work I’m doing is going to lift Georgians up. We’re going to get a lot done this year, and everyone will see by my record that I’m the right person for this job.”

Matt Lieberman, the first Democrat to announce his candidacy for the seat, qualified on Wednesday morning.

“ I feel like I have been living a life, not as a politician, but of a person here in Georgia. And I think I'm best equipped to speak to the hopes and the frustrations and the people in Georgia feel so much,” he said.

He was followed by former prosecutor Ed Tarver, who stressed his experience as a military veteran, a state senator and a U.S. attorney.

“I think that by relying on my bank of experience, voters will have more than enough information to see that I’m the most qualified person in this race,” said Tarver.

Also qualifying on Wednesday was Wayne Johnson, a former top official in the Trump administration's trillion-dollar student aid agency. 

“My campaign will be around kitchen table issues that cause financial stress in families - and how we can address them,” he said.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, arrived at the Capitol Friday morning to file his paperwork.

During a brief press conference before he qualified, Warnock called this a “critical moment in the history of our country.”

“I think the Senate, at this moment — in which the soul of our democracy is in peril — it could use a pastor,” he said.

A wave of lesser-known candidates - Democrat, Republican, and Independent - qualified as well, bringing the total number of candidates in the race to 21.

200302-ATLANTA-U.S. Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia) checks over his information while qualifying to run for a second term Monday morning March 2, 2020 at the Georgia State Capitol. BenGray.com / Special
200302-ATLANTA-U.S. Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia) checks over his information while qualifying to run for a second term Monday morning March 2, 2020 at the Georgia State Capitol. BenGray.com / Special

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Credit: BEN@BENGRAY.COM

Georgia Senate-Perdue

At a press conference, Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue held a press conference in the Georgia Capitol flanked by members of the state’s GOP elite to remark on how far he’s come.

“Six years ago, I stood right here and said, ‘Washington’s broken and if you want to see different results, send a different person,’” he said, adding: “I didn’t see Donald Trump coming, but thank God, God sent him.”

At the same event, Gov. Brian Kemp drew a comparison between Perdue’s 2014 victory and his upstart 2018 win.

“We also were both told we couldn’t win, we were both told it was someone else’s turn,” said Kemp. “But with the support of people here and millions of people across the state, we did.”

Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson became the first Democrat to qualify for the seat, promising to highlight the ways Perdue has “failed Georgians.”

“That’s what brings the excitement to the Democratic Party,” she said, adding: “I’ve got the mixture of fresh ideas, and I’ve actually made government work for people.”

Democrat Jon Ossoff qualified for the seat Wednesday morning, emphasizing his stance against corruption.

“I run a business that exposes crime and corruption. And I think that speaks to my values. And right now, when political corruption is destroying our political system. We need, elected officials who will crusade against that corruption in Congress,” he said.

Former Lieutenant Governor candidate Sarah Riggs Amico qualified on Thursday morning with her young daughters. Amico is currently the only candidate with backing from labor union organizations.

“I’m somebody who’s built a track record on fighting for working families’ economic justice,” she continued, “you don’t have to convince me to be fighting for these things, I’ve been fighting for them my whole career.”

March 2, 2020 - Atlanta - Congressman John Lewis signs paperwork to qualify for reelection to his District 5 seat.  A large turnout by both Democrats and Republicans on the first day of election qualifying resulted in long lines of politicians waiting to sign in.   Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
March 2, 2020 - Atlanta - Congressman John Lewis signs paperwork to qualify for reelection to his District 5 seat. A large turnout by both Democrats and Republicans on the first day of election qualifying resulted in long lines of politicians waiting to sign in. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Georgia House-5th District

Months after revealing his diagnosis with late-stage pancreatic cancer, U.S. Rep. John Lewis filled out paperwork to run for another term in his Atlanta district.

“I’m getting better, I’m feeling good, and I feel stronger and stronger,” said the Democrat. “I was in Selma, Alabama yesterday and, believe me, I’m inspired more than ever before to get out there and run.”

Georgia House-6th District

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel will challenge U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta in a replay of the 2018 contest. In that vote, McBath narrowly defeated Handel to represent the stretch of Atlanta’s northern suburbs.

Four other Republican candidates qualified to challenge McBath for the seat as well.

Georgia House-7th District

Five candidates have already qualified to run for the 7th District seat,  which is being vacated by Rep. Rob Woodall. Public policy professor Carolyn Bourdeaux, who unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2018, brought her eight-year-old son to watch her qualify on Monday as the first Democratic candidate for fill out paperwork. Entrepreneur Mark Gonsalves, businesswoman Lynne Homrich and State Sen. Renee Unterman qualified Monday as well, and Republican Rich McCormick qualified on Tuesday.

Democratic State Representative Brenda Lopez Romero qualified for the seat on Thursday.

“I think we should have flipped the seat last election cycle, and the fact that we didn’t is an indication that we need a different type of candidate, one that has been rooted in the seventh that actually has been doing community organizing,” she said.

Georgia House-9th District

When Rep. Doug Collins qualified to run for U.S. Senate, he left open a northeast Georgia seat that’s one of the most conservative in the nation. Eight Republican candidates have qualified to run to fill his role.

Crane Operator Michael Boggus, Clyde Armory CEO Andrew Clyde, state Rep.  Matt Gurtler, retiree Maria Strickland, state Rep.  Kevin Tanner, and attorney Ethan Underwood all qualified on Monday.

Democrat Devin Pandy is also seeking the seat.

Georgia House-14th District

The seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Tom Graves attracted plenty of interest from Republicans. State Rep. Kevin Cooke, prosecutor Clayton Fuller, neurosurgeon John Cowan and former 6th District candidate Marjorie Greene filed paperwork to run. Former school superintendent John Barge also entered the race on Wednesday, along with Ben Bullock and Bill Hembree.

Libertarians

The party announced that Shane Hazel will challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue, while Brian Slowinski will compete in the “jungle” special election against incumbent Kelly Loeffler.

Elizabeth Melton and Nathan Wilson are competing for two Public Service Commission seats, and Martin Cowen is running in Georgia’s 13th Congressional District.

Staff reporter Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this report.

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