Former federal prosecutor Ed Tarver entered the race against U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler on Thursday with a focus on bipartisan policies he hopes will distinguish him in a jumbled and polarizing field of candidates in the November race.
The Democrat unveiled his campaign by emphasizing his military background and experience as a U.S. attorney appointed by President Barack Obama. He disparaged a “broken” Washington and warned of values “under assault” by selfish politicians.
“I’m running for the U.S. Senate to restore decency to Washington, bring real leadership, and fight for our Georgia values - bipartisan criminal justice reform, fiscal responsibility and access to quality health care,” said Tarver. “We can do so much better than we’re doing today.”
Tarver, who first revealed his plan to run last month, becomes the third prominent Democrat to jump in the contest. He joins Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church; and Matt Lieberman, an entrepreneur who is the son of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.
His decision comes despite pressure from state and national Democratic officials who urged him to stay out. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and several leading party figures, including Stacey Abrams, have endorsed Warnock, a first-time political candidate who launched his campaign in January.
Tarver has cast his campaign as a grassroots effort to buck the party establishment and indicated he could pursue more centrist policies than Warnock.
“I believe that the voters of Georgia, and not top Democrats, will decide who to unify behind,” he previously told the AJC. “This is a decision that will have an enormous impact statewide and nationally. Unity has never been a valid justification for subverting the process.”
His candidacy further shakes up the race against Loeffler, a Republican financial executive who was appointed in December to succeed retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. She's also facing a stiff challenge from her party's right flank from U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a conservative four-term congressman.
A U.S. Army veteran, Tarver represented an Augusta-based Georgia Senate seat before Obama tapped him to lead the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Georgia. He became the 43-county district’s first black chief prosecutor.
He passed on the chance to challenge Isakson in 2016 but made it known last year he was considering a run for the seat shortly after the Republican announced he would step down because of health issues.
Tarver’s decision assures an even more divided Democratic field in the November special election, which features candidates from all parties on the same ballot with no primary to hash out nominees. The winner serves the remaining two years on Isakson’s term.
Democratic leaders had hoped to avoid a bruising intraparty fight and unite behind one candidate to take on Loeffler, who pledged to spend at least $20 million on her election campaign after she was tapped by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the seat.
The more jumbled the field, the greater the possibility of a January 2021 runoff. Georgia election law requires a head-to-head matchup between the two top finalists if no candidate earns a majority of the vote in November.
The contest is one of twin Senate races on Georgia’s 2020 ballot. U.S. Sen. David Perdue is seeking a second term - and three leading Democrats are competing to challenge him.