Ginsburg’s death triggers political battle in Georgia over her successor

FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2016, file photo, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is introduced during the keynote address for the State Bar of New Mexico's annual meeting in Pojoaque, N.M. The Supreme Court says Ginsburg has died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at age 87. (AP Photo/Craig Fritz, File)

Credit: AP Photo/Craig Fritz

Credit: AP Photo/Craig Fritz

FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2016, file photo, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is introduced during the keynote address for the State Bar of New Mexico's annual meeting in Pojoaque, N.M. The Supreme Court says Ginsburg has died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at age 87. (AP Photo/Craig Fritz, File)

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was poised to refocus Georgia’s twin U.S. Senate races and down-ticket contests toward a fight over her successor as the two political parties geared up for a chaotic battle over the vacancy.

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowing to hold a vote this year on President Donald Trump’s nominee to succeed Ginsburg – the president urges the Senate to act “without delay” – the fate of the seat was thrust into volatile races that long hinged on the coronavirus pandemic and the economic turmoil that followed.

Political campaigns immediately recognized that the struggle over Ginsburg’s successor could energize voters and increase turnout in Georgia, where Joe Biden is trying to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992 and Republicans are on the defensive.

Those dynamics were on vivid display in the race for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat, which features 21 candidates on the same ballot. Loeffler and her chief Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, both immediately said they supported Trump’s push to tap a successor before the November election.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue took a markedly different tack. The first-term Republican, targeting a broader electorate in a close race against Democrat Jon Ossoff, called Ginsburg a “brilliant legal mind” but didn’t immediately say whether he backs a vote this year.

The political war over Ginsburg’s seat comes as Republicans raced to shore up support with evangelicals – and shift focus away from Trump’s handling of the pandemic, a reason why he trails Biden in national polls and in many battleground states.

They hope replacing a liberal icon with a conservative stalwart will motivate Georgians who count cultural issues such as abortion and gun rights as their foremost priorities, advancing their chances of keeping both the state’s U.S. Senate seats in Republican control.

Trump is expected to soon nominate a successor, setting up a tight vote in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 edge. Several vulnerable GOP incumbents indicated they wouldn’t seat a Supreme Court successor before the election, though they’ll face intense pressure to reverse.

Democrats prepared to mount a fierce defense, pitting the question over Ginsburg’s seat as a generational battle over social measures, such as cases involving same-sex marriage, healthcare and immigration laws.

They assailed Republicans as hypocrites, armed with reminders that McConnell refused to consider former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee before the 2016 election.

“There is no doubt — let me be clear — that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” Biden told reporters late Friday.

The vacancy also led to renewed calls for Democrats Matt Lieberman and Ed Tarver – longshot candidates in the race against Loeffler – to drop out so the party can consolidate around the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

If Warnock can pull off an outright win in November, he could take office as soon as the election is certified in late November or December rather than January. That would deprive Republicans of a key vote during a lame-duck session after the Nov. 3 election.

Wrong and despicable’

In Georgia’s races, longshot Republican candidates and those courting the party’s most conservative voters had the most cutting responses to the death of Ginsburg, who told her granddaughter her “most fervent wish” was not to be replaced until the election.

Republican Angela Stanton-King, a former reality TV character who has little chance of winning an Atlanta-based congressional district, said her reaction was to “think of all the people that will live now that Ruth Ginsburg has died and can’t vote for them to be aborted.”

Collins and Loeffler – each trying to ouflank each other to woo conservatives – continued that trend. Both are competing to win the party’s hard-right base to secure a place in an all-but-certain runoff for the Senate seat in January.

Loeffler said Trump has “every right to pick a new justice before the election" and later boasted that she was the first U.S. senator to call for a speedy nomination. It reinforced the notion that she will try to brand herself an champion in the U.S. Senate for Trump’s right to quickly tap a successor.

09/14/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, for Georgia's 9th congressional district, speaks to a group of Republicans gathered at the Chastain Horse Park clubhouse in AtlantaÕs Chastain Park community, Monday, September 14, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Collins, trying to frame himself as the more authentic conservative, took his rhetoric a step beyond by offering condolences not to Ginsburg but to the “more than 30 million innocent babies that have been murdered” because of her support for abortion rights.

“With Trump nominating a replacement that values human rights,” Collins said in a social media post, “generations of unborn children have a chance to live.”

The four-term congressman is among the Georgia lawmakers who fiercely opposed Obama’s attempt to tap Merrick Garland in March 2016, when Senate Republicans argued the next president should fill the vacant seat.

Collins said at the time that politicians should “take a breath here, look at how this political season is playing out” and give the next presidential administration the chance to appoint a replacement.

His spokesman, Dan McLagan, said Friday that Collins didn’t want a “lame-duck president nominating a pro-abortion liberal to the Supreme Court when the Senate had the power to stop it.”

 Carolyn Bourdeaux, Democratic nominee in Georgia's 7th Congressional District, talks with volunteers at her Suwanee headquarters Saturday, August 8, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Republicans in closer contests took a different approach, wary of alienating moderate voters. Rich McCormick, the Republican nominee in a tight Gwinnett-based congressional district, said Ginsburg’s death “should be a reminder that there is much more that unites us as Americans than divides us.”

Many Democrats preferred to focus on Ginsburg’s legacy. Warnock, the leading Democrat in the special election contest for Loeffler’s seat, praised the justice for “defending the most fundamental human rights." Ossoff called her “a brilliant jurist" and reminded that Perdue opposed Garland’s nomination in 2016.

But they sent a sharp signal they, too, would put the fight over the Supreme Court at the center of their contests.

Ossoff reminded supporters that Perdue opposed Garland’s nomination in 2016, adding that “we will soon discover whether there is even a shred of integrity or principle left in his Republican caucus.”

And Carolyn Bourdeaux, McCormick’s opponent in the 7th District race, was among a chorus of Democrats who highlighted Collins' bruising reaction to Ginsburg’s death.

“This is not Georgia. This is wrong and despicable,” said Bourdeaux, who narrowly lost her congressional bid in 2018. “Our country and our state will reject you and your politics this year.”