The Jolt: Kelly Loeffler says she’ll erect a $20 million wall to fend off challengers

12/04/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Lawmakers applaud as newly appointed U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler (second from right) is introduced by Georgia Gov. Bria Kemp (left) during a press conference in the Governor's office at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate to take the place of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down for health reasons. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
12/04/2019 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Lawmakers applaud as newly appointed U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler (second from right) is introduced by Georgia Gov. Bria Kemp (left) during a press conference in the Governor's office at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate to take the place of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down for health reasons. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp made Kelly Loeffler's U.S. Senate appointment formal came another, more surprising, development: She declared her willingness to seed her campaign with a $20 million infusion of her own money.

Such a staggering injection would not only take the pressure off her to raise cash but could also serve as a bulwark to fend off a challenge from U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. He has threatened a bid, and other Republicans are no doubt thinking about it.

Collins has more than $1.3 million in his U.S. House account and would be at a significant fundraising disadvantage, though he would also presumably be able to tap into a network of President Donald Trump’s supporters.

The downside of Loeffler’s multi-million-dollar wager: It also gives her critics an opening to present her as out-of-touch or unable to connect with voters in, say, a diner in Dahlonega or a barber shop in Bainbridge.

Democrats have seized on that theme, portraying Loeffler and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a wealthy former Fortune 500 executive, as Georgia’s version of millionaire’s row.

“Kelly Loeffler wasted no time proving that she is more than willing to try to buy her Senate seat outright rather than working to win the trust and support of Georgians,” said Alex Floyd of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Loeffler’s advisers indicate she’s willing to dig even deeper into her account if needed. There are plenty of precedents: U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida last year spent more than $60 million of his own money to win office.

***

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was in Buckhead on Wednesday evening to record a podcast in front of a live audience. His guest was Sally Yates, another U.S. Justice Department official sacked by President Donald Trump. Yates was acting attorney general during the first hours of the Trump administration.

Given the announcement hours earlier that Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint finance executive Kelly Loefler as a replacement for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, the question of why Yates isn't interested in the office was obvious. From a post earlier this morning:

Said Yates: "Running for Senate, that's just not something that's ever really felt like me. I really am incredibly flattered by your support. We've got some great people that are running ...

Bharara: "But they're not you."

Yates: "Well, but they're terrific folks. I just don't think that's the thing for me."

***

Upon her introduction by Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday, Kelly Loeffler (pronunciation tip: as in "left") immediately identified herself as "pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-Trump and pro-wall."

The reason for that can be seen in the emailed reaction from former congressman Paul Broun, who had been the choice of the Georgia Republican Assembly, a group whose membership includes many grassroots leaders. His opening lines:

"Whether one agrees with the governor's decision or not, Georgians must give him the benefit of doubt. We should watch the voting record of Senator Loeffler and only then make our assessment. Of course I'm disappointed that I was not picked but we must trust our governor as well as The Lord and His sovereignty."

***

Over at the Washington Post, Paul Kane makes this point in a good-bye piece on U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson:

In a perfect metaphor to his service, this consummate gentile Southerner managed to serve from 1999 through 2019 yet will never vote on a presidential impeachment.

He won a special election to the House in February 1999 to succeed Newt Gingrich, the GOP House speaker whose push to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998 led to his own resignation. And Isakson, who won his Senate seat in 2004, is resigning Dec. 31, just days before the likely start of an impeachment trial of President Trump.

One quibble: We think Kane meant “genteel.” Though we’re pretty sure Isakson would meet some definitions of a Gentile.

***

Hmmm … Veteran Republican strategist Chip Lake abruptly announced Wednesday he was leaving his post as Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan's top adviser to return to the private sector.

The details of his departure are murky, but his announcement caught many at the statehouse off guard. Several senators were under the impression that he agreed to stay on through the next legislative session.

Our first suspicion was that Lake, who has close ties to U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, was headed to work for his potential campaign. But Duncan’s advisers insist that’s not the case.

Duncan called Lake a “once in a generation political mind” and thanked him for counsel that helped him win an underdog campaign for Georgia’s No. 2 job.

“As his work of establishing a strong organizational foundation in the office concludes, I have no doubt he will continue to be enormously successful in the private sector and wish him and his family all the best,” he said.

In a statement, Lake said it was the "honor of a lifetime" to serve as Duncan's chief of staff, but he didn't respond to requests for more comment. He later tweeted a picture of him reclining at a firepit.

Duncan’s new top aide is John Porter, a veteran campaign strategist who also helped orchestrate the lieutenant governor’s victory.

***

Signs of economic trouble continue jump up as we move closer to the 2020 session of the state Legislature. From the Athens Banner-Herald this morning:

State tax revenue is flatlining, state Sen. Bill Cowsert, told Athens Area Chamber of Commerce members on Wednesday.

"We're not certain where that is coming from," Cowsert said, noting the economy remains strong…

The Republican-dominated Legislature reduced income tax rates last year and hopes to reduce them more, but Cowsert named two other things as likely suspects for decreased state revenues: uncollected taxes on Internet sales and Hurricane Michael's devasting impact on southwest Georgia agriculture.

***

Democratic State Rep. Pat Gardner sent an email to friends announcing she would not seek another term next year in her Atlanta-based House seat.

“After the 2018 campaign and especially after the contentious 2019 session, I knew it was time to move on to new endeavors,” wrote Gardner, who was first elected in 2001.

***

There were the expected GOP interruptions and terse words from U.S. Rep. Doug Collins at Thursday's Judiciary hearing. But Chairman Jerry Nadler kept a tighter grip on the proceedings than many expected.

While Collins and other Republicans continued to blame Democrats for a rushed investigation they say is fueled by hatred for President Donald Trump, Democrats focused on the testimony of three constitutional scholars friendly toward their view the president has violated his oath of office.

ExploreRead more from our dispatch inside the meeting room.

***

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is ready to proceed with changes that could kick thousands of Georgians off the food stamp program, the AJC's Maya T. Prabhu reports:

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced new rules Wednesday to tighten access to food stamps, a move he said would help lift people out of poverty while safety-net advocates warned the changes could harm low-income Americans.

The former Georgia governor announced the changes during a call with reporters. Some call them the most significant changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, in years. The new rules could cut hundreds of thousands of Americans from the SNAP rolls.

The changes, first proposed last year, seek to crack down on the waivers the Department of Agriculture gives states — including Georgia — from food stamp work requirements. The federal government has long had such requirements in place for able-bodied adults who aren't caretakers or disabled, but Perdue said too many states were taking advantage of exemptions meant to help recipients weather tough economic times.

About the Authors

ajc.com

ajc.com

ajc.com

In Other News