The Jolt: One by one, Kelly Loeffler’s advantages are disappearing

Newly appointed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler waves toward supporters following a press conference in the governor's office at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the U.S. Senate, to take the place of retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
Newly appointed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler waves toward supporters following a press conference in the governor's office at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the U.S. Senate, to take the place of retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The rationale behind Gov. Brian Kemp's appointment of Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate is coming under increasing stress.

In the beginning, her wealth meant the Buckhead Republican could self-fund two statewide contests in two consecutive election cycles – but that advantage is rapidly eroding.

First, there was the controversy over her stock trades during a pandemic.

Then last Friday, Loeffler finally submitted documents detailing her financial assets and interests, as required by U.S. Senate rules. The New York Times quickly noted that she had received a $9 million pay-out when she left her executive position at the Intercontinental Exchange, parent company of the New York Stock Exchange.

All of that is legal and within the bounds of Senate rules, but it undercuts Loeffler’s claims that her acceptance of Kemp’s appointment amounted to a financial sacrifice. And in a season of unemployment in numbers that could equal the Great Depression, optics matter.

In the face of criticism over her stock trades, both she and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, announced they would stop trading individual corporate stocks. But Loeffler's financial disclosure document also shows that the couple has retained their shares in ICE.

Last night, Loeffler had announced that she had asked to be removed from the Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade, a panel that has oversight of exchanges such as those owned by ICE.

When she was appointed to the Senate Agriculture Committee, Loeffler had promised to recuse herself on a case-by-case basis when conflicts of interest arose. Here’s how her campaigned explained her decision to exit the ag subcommittee:

"[I]t's now abundantly clear that the media and her adversaries will stop at nothing to attack her and take away from the important work taking place during this public health care crisis.

The Senator continues to serve on the full Agriculture Committee and her focus remains on delivering results and relief for Georgia's farmers and all hard-working families across the state."

The hits continued this morning.

Loeffler was also intended as a rallying figure who could reverse the stampede of white suburban women to the Democratic party. And now Karen Handel, whose bid to return to Congress could depend on reversing that trend, has endorsed Loeffler's chief GOP rival, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. From a post published earlier this morning:

"He stood with me when others would not in my own fight against Planned Parenthood, and I worked side-by-side with Doug to pass important pro-life legislation," said Handel. "Most importantly, I trust Doug — to stand up for life, to stand with our president and to stand for our Georgia values."

Loeffler’s selection was predicated on the fact that her first ballot contest would be an all-comers election featuring both Democrats and Republicans -- that it would have the flavor of a general election, and she could escape the hardcore dynamics of a GOP primary.

But that just hasn’t been the case.

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We've got another sign that national Republicans are taking the threat by Georgia Democrats to flip the state House seriously.

The Republican State Leadership Committee filed paperwork this week showing it funneled $100,000 to its state apparatus devoted to keeping the chamber in GOP hands.

Among the expenditures was a $31,000 sum to the Jackson-Alvarez Group, a political consultancy firm based near Washington. But it was a much smaller expenditure that caught our eye.

The group gave a $2,800 contribution to David Jenkins, a GOP candidate and former U.S. Army helicopter pilot. His opponent? House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Luthersville lawyer whose district Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Most of the focus seems likely to be on the defensive side of the ledger, namely holding dozens of the state’s most competitive House seats to help Republicans preserve a narrowing 105-75 advantage in the chamber.

Republicans face fresh competition from Democrats who have steadily chipped away at GOP control. In 2018, Democrats picked up 11 seats in the Georgia House, mostly in suburban Atlanta districts long represented by Republicans.

In 2020, Democrats are targeting the 16 seats where a Republican won with less than 58% of the vote last year. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis showed Democrats would need to erase significant gaps with Republicans in a sweep of conservative-leaning seats to take control of the chamber.

That’s not the only drama in the Georgia House. In essence, House Speaker David Ralston is in a two-front battle.

An invitation made the rounds Wednesday for a virtual fundraiser hosted by House Speaker David Ralston for Republican Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison, daughter of former congressman Lynn Westmoreland.

The reason it raised eyebrows: She’s running against state Rep. Philip Singleton, an Army veteran and vocal Ralston critic who beat Sakrison in a 2019 special election for the Newnan-based seat.

It’s rare to see House leadership oppose one of their own, though not surprising: Singleton called for Ralston to step down over his delaying of court cases in his legal practice.

Another side note: Sakrison’s general consultant is veteran GOP operative Jay Walker, who is also a top strategist for the House GOP caucus led by Ralston.

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Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to allow dine-in restaurants, hair salons and other businesses in Georgia to reopen earlier than other states resulted in a spurt of what might be called pandemic tourism, according to the Washington Post:

One week after Georgia allowed dine-in restaurants, hair salons and other businesses to reopen, an additional 62,440 visitors arrived there daily, most from surrounding states where such businesses remained shuttered, according to an analysis of smartphone location data.

Researchers at the University of Maryland say the data provides some of the first hard evidence that reopening some state economies ahead of others could potentially worsen and prolong the spread of the novel coronavirus. Any impetus to travel, public health experts say, increases the number of people coming into contact with each other and raises the risk of transmission.

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The Vietnam War claimed the lives of 1,582 Georgians. As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, COVID-19 deaths in Georgia stood at 1,317.

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Call it the toilet flush heard 'round the world, courtesy of WSB Radio's Jamie Dupree:

The third day of the U.S. Supreme Court conducting oral arguments by telephone because of the coronavirus outbreak brought another piece of history for the High Court - as the live broadcast seemed to feature one of the participants flushing a toilet.

The sound came out as Roman Martinez, counsel for the American Association of Political Consultants was making his arguments in the second case of the day before the U.S. Supreme Court.

ExploreHe’s got the swirling audio here.

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Already posted: 

-- The shooting death of an unarmed African-American jogger in Brunswick has prompted demands for a fuller investigation, the swift arrest of suspects and new calls for a state hate crimes law.

-- The coronavirus pandemic took a brutal toll on state finances in April, with tax collections off about $1 billion in a month when much of Georgia's economy was shut down, according to our AJC colleague James Salzer.

-- As she and her allies talk up her chances as Democrat Joe Biden's running mate in the upcoming presidential contest, Stacey Abrams is addressing her most notable weakness -- a lack of foreign policy chops.

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More endorsement news:

-- Alpharetta City Councilman Ben Burnett endorsed Doug Collins’ GOP bid for U.S. Senate over incumbent Kelly Loeffler.

-- Jon Ossoff's one-time Democratic rival, former Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, has now endorsed his U.S. Senate campaign.

***

Earlier this week, we pointed you to a Savannah Morning News report that U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, had purchased a swath of land in May 2018 near a proposed spaceport in Camden County -- and that he was now advocating for the venture. It has not shown up on his disclosure reports. Carter said that because it was not considered an investment, disclosure was not required.

This morning, the newspaper noted that Carter had backed the spaceport project since 2015.

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Some weeks ago, we told you about the skeleton in the closet of Don Ware, a former chairman of the Cherokee County GOP who was now a candidate for coroner. Years ago, as a deputy sheriff, he had pleaded guilty to mistreating a jail inmate.

A long-suppressed video had surfaced. And his candidacy was being challenged as an alleged breach of his promise never to return to law enforcement -- part of a plea deal arising from the 1997 incident.

The Cherokee Tribune reports today that Ware has withdrawn his candidacy.

***

Carolyn Bourdeaux has released her first campaign ad for the 2020 race, her second attempt to win Georgia's 7th Congressional District seat.

The spot, titled "Crisis," reintroduces voters to the candidate and focuses on the healthcare aspect of her platform. The ad will run on cable TV and digital channels, but you can watch it here.

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