U.S. Rep. Doug Collins rejected the idea Friday of becoming President Donald Trump’s next director of national intelligence, deciding to focus instead on his run against U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a campaign that’s growing increasingly bitter.
The Gainesville Republican said although it was “humbling” that Trump floated his name Thursday for the coveted job, he is determined to continue his challenge against Loeffler, the wealthy business executive Gov. Brian Kemp appointed to the Senate in December.
“This is not a job that’s of interest to me at this time, and it’s not one that I’d accept,” Collins said during a morning appearance on Fox Business before questioning Loeffler’s loyalty to Trump.
“Everybody knows I’m a supporter of the president, they know how much I supported him through sham impeachment and everything else,” he said. “But I’m running against a senator who was just newly appointed who decided to support the president three weeks before she got the appointment.”
Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he was considering Collins for the job days after he hinted he could intervene in the bitter race between Collins and Loeffler, whom Kemp selected over the objections of Trump and some allies.
"I know, Kelly, that you're going to end up liking him a lot," Trump said of Collins on Feb. 6, adding that "something's going to happen that's going to be very good. I don't know; I haven't figured it out yet."
The president’s remarks triggered immediate talk in Georgia GOP circles that Collins could be in line for a prized appointment, though the congressman’s aides dismissed the idea that he would abandon the race to accept another job.
Collins would also have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the national intelligence post and most other premier positions, a tough prospect given the deep concerns Democrats have about elevating the congressman to a more prominent role.
Still, Trump’s mention of Collins raised the possibility that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Loeffler allies could have potentially helped push Collins for the job temporarily held by Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany who was named to the post earlier this week.
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Loeffler, who has made stops this week to about a dozen towns across north Georgia, declined to comment through an aide. But her supporters saw Trump’s maneuvering as a sign of support for the incumbent.
“Seems like the president is pretty happy with the fantastic job Sen. Loeffler is doing in the U.S. Senate,” said Cody Hall, a top deputy to Kemp.
Collins, meanwhile, followed up his Fox Business appearance with a Twitter post that compared Loeffler, who has promised to spend at least $20 million on her election, to a Democratic presidential contender who is also self-financing his campaign.
“She is so bad at this that her handlers won’t even let her do media interviews,” Collins wrote. “So she’s running the Michael Bloomberg campaign.”
Republican leaders have searched for ways to diffuse the scathing race between the two, which has forced top national and Georgia GOP leaders to take sides at a time when the party can ill afford a rift.
Since Collins entered the race in January, he has assailed Loeffler as an out-of-touch millionaire, a "fake conservative" and a "pretend farmer." Her allies have fired back, depicting the congressman as a tax-and-spend phony bent on dividing the party.
The feud has raised GOP concerns that Democrats could win the special election for the seat once held by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired in December because of health issues.
That’s because the race will feature multiple candidates from both parties on the same ballot, with no primaries to filter nominees. That could give Democrats an opening to exploit Republican divisions by unifying behind a candidate.
The decision by the Rev. Raphael Warnock to enter the race in January has amplified those fears, as the Democrat has quickly locked up support from state and national figures, including Stacey Abrams and the party's U.S. Senate campaign arm.
Collins raised that prospect Friday, warning that Loeffler “could actually put this seat in jeopardy because of the flaws she has.”
“If Loeffler were the GOP’s only choice, we would lose this Senate seat,” he added on social media. “I can’t let that happen to this president and I can’t let that happen to Georgia.”
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The most recent poll of the race, released this week by the University of Georgia, showed Collins with a slightly higher favorability rating among Republicans. But it also said 40% didn't know enough about either candidate to form an opinion.
Some Republicans worry that the GOP feud could spill over to damage U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is up for a second term in November, as well as Trump's chances of holding a state he won by 5 percentage points in 2016.
Still, Democrats have their own challenges to work out. The party hasn’t captured a statewide seat in more than a decade, and no Democratic presidential candidate has carried Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992.
And Warnock has failed to scare off two contenders from his own party who could complicate his chances of scoring an upset victory: entrepreneur Matt Lieberman and former federal prosecutor Ed Tarver, who announced his campaign earlier Thursday.