OPINION: Loeffler’s no dummy, but wooden campaign ad not too smart

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., speaks during a Georgia Municipal Association breakfast at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta on January 27, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/Alyssa.Pointer@AJC.com)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., speaks during a Georgia Municipal Association breakfast at the Georgia Freight Depot in Atlanta on January 27, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/Alyssa.Pointer@AJC.com)

Kelly Loeffler was originally going to spend $20 million of family cash just to hang onto her new job. But with the events of the past couple of weeks, it looks like she might have to pull another $10 million from the mattress to avoid becoming a footnote in Georgia political history.

Loeffler, who has an MBA and headed a cryptocurrency exchange, knows that a $20 million investment for a $174,000 job is a savvy move if the gig is a seat on the U.S. Senate. It's a law of scarcity. Millionaires and even billionaires have become common in this new Gilded Age. But there are only 100 Senate seats.

Loeffler, the wife of the zillionaire head of the New York Stock Exchange, was Gov. Brian Kemp’s outside-the-box pick to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson, who left office at the end of the year because of health issues.

Loeffler was largely unknown in political circles, but Gov. Shotgun thought appointing someone of the female persuasion might help beat back the narrative that the Republican Party is the bastion of testosterone-driven guys like himself. The move was meant to expand the tent and appeal to the suburbanites, especially women, who have been leaping off the GOP bandwagon because of the rantings of a certain real estate mogul from New York.

Kemp’s stunt last year to have an open audition for the open senator’s job drew more than 500 entries to the Senate Sweepstakes portal. Congressman Doug Collins, the face of President Donald Trump’s defense in this impeachment effort, was a bit miffed that he had to go hat in hand to The Gov to push for his approval, only to be told he had to toss his name into the portal just like any other schmo.

Collins, being Trump’s fair-haired fellow, figured he deserved the gubernatorial nod, as did the president. But Kemp, who didn’t like Collins’ public wrangling for the job, thought differently.

Newly appointed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler listens as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a press conference in his office at the Georgia State Capitol Building on December 4, 2019. Kemp appointed Loeffler to the U.S. Senate to take the place of Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons. (ALYSSA POINTER/Alyssa.Pointer@AJC.com)

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So, Kemp reasoned, why not pick a woman with millions to toss around? Because whoever he appointed would have to run for election this fall to serve out the remaining two years of the term. Kemp figured appointing Ms. Moneybags would mean there'd be one less race that Republicans would have to raise money for this fall.

Loeffler came to the Senate this month looking over her shoulder at Collins, an ambitious fellow who is a lawyer, preacher, soldier and loud talker from up Gainesville way, where a political machine ran things for nearly a decade. Collins kept hinting that he might run, which in politicalspeak means, “Damn right I’m running, Bubba!”

Loeffler figured she’d scare off Collins with an initial $2.6 million salvo of ads, introducing her bonafides to GOP voters — mainly that she’s against impeachment and for killing that Iranian terrorist fellow.

To say she looks wooden is an understatement. The ad comes across like a hostage video, with Loeffler’s captors leveling their guns at her off-camera.

The ad was probably the nudge that brought Collins to actually run. The congressman, who has spent hours yakking in front of cameras and has felt the love of both Trump AND Sean Hannity, no doubt figured, “I can whip her!”

It’s a gamble. Many GOPers are clamoring for him, but if the Democrats win the seat, then he’ll get blamed as the spoiler and become persona non grata in Republican circles. Also, he could lose outright to Loeffler if Kemp’s hunch about suburban women is true. However, Collins figures it’s worth the risk because these seats don’t come up that often, and he has the hot hand in FoxNewsLand.

I talked with a few Republicans and most didn’t want their names used. You know, when your parents are fighting, the kids want to lay low.

It’s hard these days for some pols to look like themselves and still toe the party line, one that is both orthodox, yet visceral. Money sure helps. They say it’s the mother’s milk of politics. But …

“Twenty million dollars spent wisely can be overwhelming, but it can be inefficient and wasted money,” said Heath Garrett, Isakson’s longtime political strategist and chief of staff. “With first-time, self-funding candidates in politics, consultants try to make them something they are not.”

Garrett, who is not involved in this race, continued: “The real opportunity is to get Kelly Loeffler to articulate conservative values in her own language, rather than have her be force-fed lines that are poll-tested.”

Currently, Collins is a better-known quantity, with 35 percent of Georgia voters having a favorable view of him, as well as 52 percent of Republicans, according to a recent AJC poll. Loeffler, who was derided as a "moderate," has lower numbers, with 23 percent of Georgians liking her and 31 percent of Republicans.

Still, both are largely blank slates, with Loeffler being blanker — 57 percent of all voters don’t have an opinion of her, compared to 47 percent for Collins.


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It’s still up in the air how the election will go. Currently, it’s set for a “jungle primary” in November, in which Loeffler, Collins and whatever Dems are in the mix will go at it all at once. If no one notches above 50 percent, the top two vote-getters go to a runoff.

There's now an effort in the Legislature by Collins' supporters to ditch the jungle and put in more traditional primaries before summer. The Gov is not liking that and vows to veto it.

This week, right before it became apparent that Collins would jump in, Loeffler — who is hiring former Trump strategists because you can never be too Trumpie these days — strategically disowned a (former?) friend and fellow Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney. Back in the day (2012, which is like a century ago), Loeffler and her husband dished out $1.6 million to Romney when he ran unsuccessfully for president. They even visited each other’s homes.

But Romney wants to call witnesses to the impeachment, something anathema to her crew. Loeffler could have walked down the corridor to ask Romney to back off. But this is 2020. Instead, she took to Twitter to call Romney an appeaser to the left, and she tagged @realDonaldTrump so the boss man could see she was on His Team.

She’s getting it.