FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2019, file photo, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a news conference at a gun control advocacy event in Las Vegas. Tennessee’s top election officials say Bloomberg has requested a petition that would require securing 2,500 signatures from registered voters in less than a month if he wants to qualify for the state’s Democratic presidential primary ballot. The secretary of state’s office confirmed Wednesday, Nov. 13, that Bloomberg requested the ballot petition earlier this week. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Photo: John Locher/AP
Photo: John Locher/AP

The Jolt: With Lucy McBath’s endorsement, Michael Bloomberg makes his Georgia intentions clear

There are two ways to read this morning’s endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate and billionaire Michael Bloomberg by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Marietta.

Both are probably right.

Two years ago, a Bloomberg organization spent more than $4.5 million to help McBath oust Republican incumbent Karen Handel. McBath, whose son was murdered by a gun-wielding assailant, had served as a spokeswoman for the group.

So her support for Bloomberg, who announced his candidacy late last year, has never been in doubt. “Mike gave grieving mothers like me a way to stand up and fight back. Nobody running for president has done more for the gun violence prevention movement than Mike,” McBath said in the press release.

It’s the timing that’s significant.

On Tuesday, an audio recording of a 2015 speech Bloomberg gave at the Aspen Institute, defending the stop-and-frisk policy he instituted while mayor of New York City, surfaced and began rocketing across the internet.

“Ninety-five percent of murders, murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops,” Bloomberg said. “They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city…”

Bloomberg has since apologized for the policy, which resulted in millions of stops of African-American men by New York police.

McBath, an African-American mother, is the answer for those demanding more from Bloomberg.

But it is also true that McBath’s endorsement of Bloomberg comes only hours after former Vice President Joe Biden, heretofore the favorite of African-American voters, finished a disappointing fifth in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Biden didn’t wait for New Hampshire returns to roll in. He left Tuesday afternoon for South Carolina, a state rich in African-American voters. It’s his firewall.

Bloomberg has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on TV ads, across the country and in Georgia, boosting his own candidacy and dumping on President Donald Trump. His focus is on March 3 SuperTuesday primaries and beyond. Georgia votes March 24.

Bloomberg has hired about 50 staffers and opened a half-dozen offices around the state. He’s courted Stacey Abrams and state party chair Nikema Williams.

If Biden can’t right himself, Bloomberg is positioning himself as the best choice for a calculating African-American base that wants to see Trump gone above all else.

In Georgia, Lucy McBath is a start.

***

It can be hard to believe, but there was a not-so-distant time when Georgia Republicans were lukewarm about President Donald Trump. Even U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. 

The four-term congressman and U.S. Senate candidate was an early supporter of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential aspirations in 2016. And, like many Georgia Republican leaders at the time, he was skeptical of Trump before the New York businessman locked up the GOP nomination.

That rings clear in an April 2016 radio interview ricocheting around Republican circles since the Gainesville Republican announced a challenge to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Both are now furiously jockeying for Trump’s all-important endorsement. 

Back when the interview was recorded, Trump was still wrestling with Sen. Ted Cruz for the nomination. And, like other Georgia Republicans at the time, Collins was ambivalent about the New York businessman and realty TV star. The interview opened with a question from a WDUN host: 

“As we tape this on April 23rd, Donald Trump may or may not be able to win enough delegates to become the nominee. We may have a contested convention. But if Donald Trump is the GOP nominee for president, will you be able to support him?”

Said Collins: 

“I think I’m looking forward to seeing who our nominee is. When you look at the alternatives on the other side (laughter), you know, that’s something we got to look at. 

“Look, do I have a lot of concern about a lot that’s been said during this campaign? Yes. But what we need to do now is let our process work. We’re the party of rules. We’re the party of order. Let’s let the process work. We’ll see what comes out there …”

The host follows up: “Do you think Donald Trump’s a conservative?”

Answered Collins: “There’s some things he’s said that’s not. There are some things he’s said that are. So as someone who’s never had to cast a vote, I think you go on his rhetoric.” 

He echoed other contemporary Republicans with those remarks. Some, including U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, didn’t endorse Trump until the Republican National Convention. 

Gov. Brian Kemp, who was charged with overseeing the vote as secretary of state during the race, was neutral in the GOP primary. And then-Gov. Nathan Deal never cozied to Trump during the campaign -- and even met with President Barack Obama in the runup to the vote. 

But the recording serves as a reminder of a time when even Collins, who quickly became one of Trump’s most visible defenders in Congress, had concerns about the eventual president.

***

State Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, a harsh critic of House Speaker David Ralston and a habitual “no” vote in the Legislature, this morning announced his candidacy for the Ninth District congressional seat being given up by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville.

Three other Republicans -- state Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, state Sen. John Wilkinson of Toccoa, and former congressman Paul Broun -- have already announced their candidacies.

***

In a late-night appearance Tuesday on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” Stacey Abrams stoked more talk of possibly being tapped for vice president when she told the host she had quite a bit of “pent up aggression” to get out in a potential debate against incumbent Vice President Mike Pence. 

***

In more endorsement news:

-- Former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has endorsed U.S. Rep. Doug Collins’ challenge to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Consider it an answer to Tuesday’s endorsement of Loeffler by Newt Gingrich.

-- The Rev. Raphael Warnock continued to consolidate his party’s support. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson announced he would support the Democrat’s U.S. Senate bid on Twitter on Tuesday. 

-- Warnock and former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson were both endorsed by the national progressive group Democracy for America

-- Glenda Hatchett, the former chief judge of Fulton County’s juvenile court, endorsed Teresa Tomlinson’s bid for U.S. Senate. 

-- Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who plans to play a more vocal role in state Senate elections, backed Paulding County school board member Jason Anavitarte’s bid for the west Georgia seat being given up by Bill Heath, R-Bremen. It’s the lieutenant governor’s first dip into a legislative primary.

***

Staff from the National Republican Senatorial Committee has dissuaded operatives from working on U.S. Rep. Doug Collins’ campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Politico Playbook reports.

The NRSC, which is backing Loeffler, has successfully lobbied multiple vendors not to work against the incumbent, Playbook said. Collins’ campaign responded that the "result is a positive one” and allowed the candidate to hire a "colorful cast of characters who all have an aversion to authority."

There has been similar discussion on the Democratic side, with that party’s Congressional Campaign Committee implementing a rule that essentially blacklists vendors if they work to unseat an incumbent. 

***

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas preached his long-held belief of the need for judicial restraint at the dedication ceremony for the new Nathan Deal Judicial Center, our AJC colleague Bill Rankin reports. The $131 million structure, fitted with Ionic marble columns, stained hickory paneling and furniture made by state prison inmates, opened for business in December. It is now home to the Georgia Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the state’s new Business Court.

***

State Sen. Jesse Stone won’t seek another term in the Georgia Senate. The five-term Republican said on Facebook that he made his decision after “prayerful consideration with my family.” Wrote Stone: 

“I believe in limiting terms of office, something I did as mayor. I hope to find future avenues of public service. I appreciate the opportunities and confidence that the voters have entrusted with me over the years. It has truly been a humbling experience.”

A staunch social conservative, the Waynesboro Republican has floated new “religious liberty” measures in recent years and opposed a hate crimes statute as chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee. 

(Side note: A grassroots activist also once called out Stone’s wife for donning a pink hat and participating in a Women’s March with her daughter in Augusta.)

***

Stacey Abrams will be the guest speaker during the annual event that coincides with the re-enactment of the “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Ala.

Abrams will give the keynote address at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast that proceeds the bridge crossing, where she will also receive an award.

This year marks the 55th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” which occurred on March 7, 1965. U.S. Rep. John Lewis was badly beaten on that day and has returned for re-enactments over the years. But it is unclear if Lewis will make it this year as he continues to receive treatment for pancreatic cancer.

***

Over at Atlanta magazine, Jennifer Rainey Marquez has turned a lengthy piece on state Sen. Jen Jordan of Atlanta, a Democratic up-and-comer who’s not in the scrum for U.S. Senate. A taste:

On March 22, 2019, Jordan went from little-known legislator to household name—at least among the politically active set—thanks to her impassioned dissent against Georgia House Bill 481, the so-called “heartbeat bill” that is one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. In the speech, which has been viewed and shared tens of thousands of times, Jordan, without so much as a crack in her voice, opened up about her eight miscarriages, including the death of a daughter, Juliette, whom she lost five months into pregnancy.

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