Candidates for Georgia U.S. Senate in 2020. From left to right: U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Who’s challenging Kelly Loeffler for Johnny Isakson’s U.S. Senate seat

Kelly Loeffler was appointed to fill retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat until a special election could be held to determine who will complete the remainder of his term that ends in 2022.

Although Loeffler is technically the incumbent, she faces opposition this fall from the right in U.S. Rep. Doug Collins and from the left in prominent Atlanta pastor Raphael Warnock and other Democrats.

Related: Who’s challenging Sen. David Perdue in 2020?

Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman, has pledged millions to defend her seat in the winner-take-all race on the ballot in November. If none of the candidates gets 50% of the vote, the top two will face off in a January 2021 runoff.

Here are the current and potential candidates we’re watching: 

Republicans

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a Georgia Municipal Association breakfast on Jan. 27, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler

Details: Loeffler was a wealthy Buckhead businesswoman who became Gov. Brian Kemp’s pick to succeed Isakson despite not initially having the support of President Donald Trump and other conservatives.

Sworn in shortly after the New Year, she has focused on establishing herself as Trump Republican and opposed  House Democrats’ efforts remove the president from office via impeachment.

Loeffler pledged to invest at least $20 million of her own money in defending her seat. Party leaders also hope her candidacy will help convince white women living in suburban Atlanta to return to the Republican Party.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins

Details: Collins has served in elected office since 2007, first in the Georgia House and later representing the 9th Congressional District. It is in this job that the Gainesville Republican also assumed the role of one of Trump’s primary defenders. 

His relationship with the president made him a popular choice among conservatives once Isakson announced his retirement. After he was overlooked for the appointment, Collins decided to challenge Loeffler in the special election.

He is a trained attorney and chaplain for the U.S. Air Force Reserves. Collins recently became a fixture on TV as the top-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment investigation.

Other Republican candidates:

A. Wayne Johnson, a Macon resident who resigned from his job at the U.S. Department of Education to apply for Isakson’s seat. Once Loeffler was appointed, Johnson submitted paperwork to run against her.

Ervan Katari Miller has filed paperwork to run for three different federal seats this year, including this Senate office. 

Democrats

Portrait of Rev. Raphael Warnock at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church taken on July 18, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Rev. Raphael Warnock

Details: Warnock became the first prominent Democrat to announce he would challenge Loeffler, making this his first campaign for public office.

Warnock is the senior pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and known for powerful sermons on social justice and civil rights. He considered a challenge to Isakson in 2016 but decided against it.

Former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams endorsed Warnock soon after he announced his bid against Loeffler, and local and national party figures have begun to rally around him.

Matt Lieberman, an entrepreneur and son of former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, became the first Democrat to enter the race for retiring Republican Johnny Isakson s seat. (CONTRIBUTED)

Businessman Matt Lieberman

Details: Prior to Warnock’s entry, Lieberman was the most prominent and best financed candidate in the race. An educator and entrepreneur, he is running for office for the first time.

Lieberman is the son of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000.

U,.S. Attorney Ed Tarver
Photo: Greg Bluestein/Political Insider blog

Former  U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver

Details: Tarver told the AJC in January that he would announce a bid for Senate even if he doesn’t have the backing of the Democratic Party or its leaders.

The former federal prosecutor in Atlanta began exploring a campaign shortly after Isakson announced that he was retiring. Tarver, like Warnock, had considered challenging Isakson in 2016.

Other Democratic candidates:

Richard Dien Winfield, a professor of philosophy at the University of Georgia who ran unsuccessfully for Congress two years ago on a platform that focused on his support of the Green New Deal.

Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a business owner and activist who waged failed bids for the Georgia Senate in 2014 and 2016.

Possible Democratic candidate:

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond was elected to lead Georgia’s fourth most populous county in 2016 and has been praised for balancing the budget, giving employees pay raises and generally righting the ship in a county often known for episodes of corruption and mismanagement.

He spoke to party officials in Atlanta and Washington about running for Senate but so far has not announced a decision.

Democrats who have ruled themselves out: 

DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston; state Sen. Jen Jordan.

Third-party candidate

Elbert “Al” Bartell, is an independent and perennial candidate who ran for Atlanta mayor before dropping out of the race 2017.

Read more: 

Who’s challenging Sen. David Perdue in 2020

Who’s running in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District

Who’s running in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District

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About the Author

Tia Mitchell
Tia Mitchell
Tia Mitchell is the AJC’s Washington correspondent.
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