There was plenty of activity this past week involving the U.S. Senate seats held by Republicans Johnny Isakson, center, and David Perdue, right. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Capitol Recap: Contests for Georgia Senate seats chug along

It was a week when national politics commanded the scene, much in the way an orchestra’s brass section fills a symphony hall.

But what’s that buzz in the background that also cannot be denied?

It’s the host of moves involving Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats that could eventually add up to something bigger.

Like what? Under the rules of impeachment, for instance, it’s the senators who vote on whether to oust a president.

Before us lies a battle with three front lines.

There’s the race for David Perdue’s Senate seat that was always on the 2020 calendar, as well as the one that was added when U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson announced he would step down at the end of the year. Plus, there’s the jockeying now underway to gain Gov. Brian Kemp’s nod to fill Isakson’s seat in 2020, before the winner of the special election serves the remaining two years of Isakson’s term.

Bidding for Kemp’s favor

It’s that contest to be Kemp’s choice where the most immediate action occurred.

A big name joined the game.

Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price submitted his resume to the website Kemp set up as a sort of digital “help wanted” sign.

Price has kept a relatively low profile in Georgia since he left the big stage of serving in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet under a cloud of scandal. The former congressman from Roswell quit less than eight months into the job of health secretary after racking up at least $1 million in travel on private and military jets, spurring bipartisan condemnation and drawing the ire of the president.

Trump’s disapproval would be a big obstacle for Price. While Price is close to Kemp, the governor owes the president a lot of credit for winning last year’s election, especially for Trump’s endorsement in the GOP primary.

Some prominent Republicans added their names to the list of Senate hopefuls.

They include former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, who was the runner-up for secretary of state in last year’s GOP primary; state Sen. Tyler Harper, an Ocilla farmer; and former state Sen. Judson Hill, a Marietta attorney who lost his bid in the 2017 special election in the 6th Congressional District.

One of the favorites for the job had been U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville.

But the House’s launching of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump may have diminished Collins’s chances.

In his role as the top Republican on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Collins is a key Trump defender. That might persuade Kemp to keep Collins where he is.

Perdue’s seat

Like Collins, Perdue has been a strong defender of the president. This past week, for example, the two Georgians were both called to the White House to plot strategy and review the summary of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before it was released.

On the campaign trail, Perdue has also closely followed Trump’s strategy of trying to cast the Democrats as socialists. He has portrayed his potential Democratic contenders as Georgia versions of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others hoping to take on Trump in next year’s election, painting them as anti-capitalists.

He also does everything he can to remind voters how tight he is with the president.

“He calls me early in the morning and late at night. I spend time with him in the White House. Sometimes he’s exhausting, guys, but he works,” Perdue said of Trump at a recent gathering of religious conservatives.

Meanwhile, the four potential Democratic challengers to Perdue — Sarah Riggs Amico, Jon Ossoff, Ted Terry and Teresa Tomlinson — kept busy this past week trying to strengthen their positions.

Tomlinson, a former mayor of Columbus, nabbed another prominent endorsement in her bid for the Democratic nomination.

Former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland has joined former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and ex-Gov. Roy Barnes in backing Tomlinson.

She also picked up support from the LGBTQ community, raising more than $10,000 at a Midtown Atlanta fundraiser this month, according to Patrick Saunders of Project Q.

Ossoff, best known for his second-place showing in the 2017 special election in the 6th Congressional District, can lay claim to his own high-profile backers: U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and John Lewis.

Terry didn’t reveal any big-shot endorsements, but he did try to catch a big wave by timing his endorsement of the Green New Deal with demonstrations around the world seeking action against climate change.

“We must do more to act on the climate crisis,” Terry, a former state director of the Sierra Club, said in a video posted on Twitter. “It’s going to take large-scale systemic change.”

Outside groups allied with Perdue seized on Terry’s endorsement, pointing to one estimate that the sweeping climate proposal, which was promoted by New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would cost more than $90 trillion to implement.

Those groups also went after Tomlinson, highlighting comments she made that called action on climate change an “economic necessity” and a “moral imperative.”

Amico, who was last year’s Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, did her part to keep stirring the pot in the presidential race.

She sent money to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign after he pleaded for donations to keep his operation going.

“His is a voice that should continue to be a part of the conversation,” Amico said of Booker in a Twitter post.

Booker warned recently that his campaign might end if he didn’t raise $1.7 million more by the end of the month. He said his call for donations spurred his two best days of fundraising, bringing in more than $500,000.

The 2020 race for Isakson’s seat

The 2020 contest for Isakson’s seat is a different kind of animal.

As a special election, it will bypass the primary process and list all the candidates together, regardless of their party affiliation. In 2017, that setup produced a 6th Congressional District race with 17 runners.

Some observers, such as former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, have suggested that a more moderate variety of politician might rise as champion in the 2020 contest. Others have theorized that because no African American is among the candidates currently running for Perdue’s seat, the special election might be where Democrats can do the most to appeal to a powerful part of their base in Georgia by promoting a black contender high on their ticket.

Those factors might help explain why nobody has declared yet.

But potential candidates are starting to pop up.

Former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver is among the newer additions to the list of maybe contenders.

Early this past week, the moderate black Democrat from Augusta told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was heading to Washington to meet with Senate leaders about a potential bid.

Tarver, a U.S. Army veteran, left the state Senate in 2009 when President Barack Obama appointed him to lead the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the 43-county Southern District of Georgia. He became the first black person to head that office.

Some Democrats see Tarver as someone who can excite black voters while also possessing the law-and-order chops to appeal to moderate voters. A strike against him could be name recognition, specifically in metro Atlanta.

Like Tarver, state Sen. Jen Jordan traveled this past week to Washington, although she hasn’t said why.

Other names that have generated speculation are state Sen. Nikema Williams; 2014 Senate candidate Michelle Nunn; DeKalb County Chief Executive Michael Thurmond; and DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston.

The GOP side of the contest remains an empty slate because Kemp’s choice to fill Isakson’s set, as the incumbent, will probably be the strongest Republican in the special election.

Outside interest

The Daily Beast reports that Warren’s presidential campaign plans to send resources to Georgia and other states to aid Democrats in down-ballot races.

“We’re targeting our resources to invest in places that will be critical to keeping the House, taking back the U.S. Senate, and regaining ground in key state legislatures in 2020,” wrote Roger Lau, Warren’s campaign manager. “That includes states like Illinois and California, where Democrats won a whole bunch of House seats in 2018 in close elections that we’ll need to defend. It also includes states like Maine, which has a competitive Senate race, and Georgia, where there will be two Senate seats up for election.”

The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC focused on defending GOP Senate seats, seems to think that having Warren at their side won’t help candidates in Georgia.

“We eagerly await Senator Warren’s announcement to publicly campaign with Georgia’s Democratic Senate candidates, and urge all Georgia Democrats to follow Senator Warren’s leadership by adopting her platform in full,” said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the fund.

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