Georgia’s senatorial “jungle primary,” an electoral free-for-all cacophony, has candidates swinging from the vines — most notably U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
The special election to finish the term of retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has brought out 21 candidates in the unusual November event. But there are really only three that anyone must consider:
- The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and the leading Democrat;
- Loeffler, a Republican businesswoman who got appointed to her gig because she’s rich;
- And Gainesville’s own Doug Collins, the congressman and Trump defender who’s got it in his noggin that he ought to be a senator.
The president, too, initially had that same thought in his noggin about Collins, which has led to the inherent conflict in this drama that, in essence, has become Republican and Democratic primaries in the same election.
It’s almost certain nobody will get over 50% of the vote in November, so Warnock will likely meet either Collins or Loeffler in a January runoff.
Gov. Brian Kemp picked Loeffler to fill the open senatorial seat last December because Georgia’s Republican brand was seen as too white, masculine and right-wing. Governor Shotgun, who won his job being white, masculine and right-wing, believed a female senator might draw back to the fold some of those educated suburban women who had fled the GOP.
The party needed more estrogen. And cash. The latter was probably even more important because the wealthy Loeffler and her husband — who looks like Daddy Warbucks (look it up, kids) — could largely self-fund her campaign, allowing room for other GOP candidates to hit up potential donors.
But Loeffler has always had a problem. And that’s Collins, who was a conservative darling long before Loeffler’s appointment was a gleam in Kemp’s eye. So we see silly TV ads like the one placing her to the right of Attila the Hun, as well as her frequent pro-Trump Twitter posts.
Credit: John Spink
Credit: John Spink
Now, Loeffler’s history in the Attila the Hun commercial is a bit convoluted because one of Attila’s stated goals in the ad is to fight China. But that was really Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Both were happily ambitious and murderous. But I think Huns just worked better with the focus groups.
I suppose they didn’t want to say she was “to the right of Benito Mussolini” because many of our history-deprived voters would draw a blank at Benito and there is the messy part of him being allied with another ambitious and murderous German.
But if Loeffler is to the right of Attila, the Collins camp could correctly counter that their guy is to the right of Darth Vader.
Most recently, Loeffler raised eyebrows (again) with a tweet showing President Donald Trump body-slamming a man with a coronavirus image for a head. The video came from an old WrestleMania where The Donald body-slammed WWE magnate Vince McMahon. But Loeffler’s tweet caused consternation from some folks who said she was making light of the 7,000 Georgians who have died of COVID-19.
I really don’t see it that way. She was simply sucking up to the president. And in her defense, everyone on the political right sucks up to Trump. She’s just doing it more effusively than others, although Collins is right up there with her.
It is fitting that she used a wrestling meme because politics has become like pro rasslin’ — just more fake.
Loeffler’s Attila bit evokes memories of the ad two years ago when candidate Kemp leveled a shotgun in the direction of a young male suitor of his daughter. Or maybe the 2002 ad for Sonny Perdue that portrayed then-Gov. Roy Barnes as King Rat terrorizing a city.
All those ads got people talking, but there is a difference this time. In 2002, Perdue was a relative political nobody with little money trying to get noticed. (He won.) And when Kemp ran his shotgun ad, he was trying to differentiate himself in a crowded field and get into a runoff with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who was far and away the front-runner. (Cagle later imploded like an Atlanta Falcons 4th-quarter lead.)
But Loeffler is an incumbent who has spent a ton of cash and has a Brinks truck at the ready for the upcoming weeks.
“Had it not been for that ad, Brian Kemp would not be governor,” said Chip Lake, a strategist for Collins. “In his documentary, Roger Stone said there’s only one thing worse than being wrong; being boring.”
“You’ve got to get noticed, but it’s not what you usually do when you’re an incumbent and have a substantial cash advantage,” he added. “They know they have a problem with authenticity.”
Lake estimates Loeffler has spent $32 million of both her own cash and money from outside PACs that is flowing in. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed Loeffler, although a large portion of elected Republicans and activists in Georgia support Collins.
Loeffler spokesman Stephen Lawson said she never got a chance to revel in incumbency after being appointed because she got challenged and had to start running right away.
“This is a primary within a general election,” he said. “It didn’t have to be that way. She’s a sitting Republican senator. Doug Collins turned it into a primary.”
Lawson dismissed claims that his candidate is not a true right-winger. Loeffler from the start has uttered all the things conservatives want to hear, he said. But hardly anyone’s listening.
“The ads are effective because they cut through all the noise,” Lawson said. “You have to break through the noise.”
Longtime Republican operative Heath Garrett, who is sitting this one out, said, “Both Collins and Loeffler camps have conceded reaching out to the middle right now. The challenge for Kelly is to run two campaigns, one in rural Georgia as a conservative, and run in Atlanta on her business success. But they chose not to do that. It’s a little odd that they run those (Attila) ads in Atlanta.”
The fear, Garrett said, is that Loeffler is driving away the same suburban moderate Republicans she was supposed to bring back. “The $50 million question is will she get those voters,” he said.
Heck, it’ll be far more than a $50 million question when this goes to a runoff in January, especially if the fate of the Senate hangs in the balance.
The year 2020 has been exhausting and this is the most 2020 of elections.
Well, other than the big one, that is.
About the Author