OPINION: Is Kelly Loeffler the new Georgia Republican Party?

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a Georgia Municipal Association breakfast on Jan. 27. She has already given her campaign $5 million and has pledged to spend $20 million or more in hopes of retaining her seat. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a Georgia Municipal Association breakfast on Jan. 27. She has already given her campaign $5 million and has pledged to spend $20 million or more in hopes of retaining her seat. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

A look at the “after-action report” from Kelly Loeffler’s two political groups following the 2022 midterm elections describes the massive voter registration, mobilization, and get-out-the-vote operations she created after losing her Senate runoff election in 2021.

There were voter roundtables, door knocking, a media campaign, polling, and text messaging — all with the goal of getting Republicans elected in Georgia.

If you didn’t know better, Loeffler’s printed-and-bound 30-page presentation could be mistaken for the kind of wide-ranging, data-driven product a state Republican party would produce.

But with the Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer on the outs with Gov. Brian Kemp after pushing former President Donald Trump’s election fraud conspiracies, and new election laws allowing unlimited spending on political campaigns, the deep-pocketed Loeffler is filling the void many Republicans see the state party leaving behind. And she’s spending millions of her own money to do it.

Kemp, too, stood up his own stand-alone ground game ahead of his 2022 reelection outside of the state party apparatus. His aides say it was a strategic decision to make sure the job got done.

In an interview in her Buckhead offices, Loeffler described losing her 2021 runoff election and feeling compelled not to dismantle the multi-million operation she’d just built. She said she wanted to focus on outreach to minority and women voters, along with the Republicans who stayed home during the runoffs, because those were the gaps she struggled with in her own race.

“I knew no one was doing that by seeing the work just needed to be done,” she said.

She said she doesn’t see her two groups, Greater Georgia and Citizens for a Greater Georgia, as competing with the state GOP, which she got involved with more than a dozen years ago. Instead, she says she’s complementing its work.

“It is very necessary that we have a mechanism, whether that’s us or the state party or the governor’s operation, it doesn’t matter who does it,” she said. “It’s not about who gets credit for it, but that we have different avenues to bring people in.”

But she also added that the idea of a state party running the whole show across a state during an election is outdated.

“We have Citizens United, which fundamentally changed state parties. Leadership committees in Georgia have fundamentally changed that dynamic, too,” she said. “So whether you’re the governor or the state Senate, you now have different capabilities and resources at your disposal, like unlimited fundraising and coordination with the campaigns.”

Loeffler called the Georgia GOP “part and parcel of the grassroots infrastructure.” But other Republicans have been less charitable, especially after Shafer was named as a target in the Fulton County Special Grand Jury’s investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“Kelly Loeffler is clearly filling a vacuum where the state party exists,” one GOP donor said. “David Schafer went all in for not just President Trump’s claims of voter fraud, but also for candidates who were apparently all in. It makes perfect sense for Kemp and others to try to build their own ground campaign.”

Other large donors said they have given to GOP candidates and to Loeffler this cycle, but not to the Georgia GOP under Shafer.

Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican and longtime party leader called Loeffler’s work “pivotal to the success of the party and reversing the trend that we saw in the 2020 election.”

“We could not have had the clean sweep of all state constitutional offices and held the state House and state Senate without organizations like Kelly’s, who worked hand-in-glove with the governor’s organization to get out the vote and energize the Republican base,” Lindsey said.

Brian Robinson, a GOP strategist and former top aid to Gov. Nathan Deal, said Loeffler is stepping into the void created not just by the Georgia GOP, but also the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United that lifted campaign contribution limits.

“This is happening because the laws have changed, allowing these outside groups to do this stuff. And so the money follows the laws to some degree,” he said. “This is the new reality and each party’s got to go and find their own Kelly Loeffler types, who will write big checks and get involved and keep the trains on the tracks.”

Robinson said mega-donors getting involved works fine as long as there is a single leader in a state like Kemp, but that won’t always be the case.

“I appreciate what she’s doing,” he said. “The turnout piece is a real need in a state where any given Tuesday, anyone could win.”

Shafer could soon face a serious challenge to his chairmanship in June when he faces Rebecca Yardley, the chair of the 9th District GOP.

“Our Party deserves a chairman who is fully focused on taking the steps required to win Georgia elections,” she said in her announcement.

But Ryan Caudelle, the executive director of the Georgia GOP, listed Republicans’ statewide wins, including holding their majorities in the state House and Senate, as proof that the party got the job done in 2022.

“The GA GOP Victory program knocked on more than 5 million doors and made over 2.5 million live calls with over a hundred field staff and thousands of volunteers operating in all 159 counties in Georgia, supporting these victories.”

Loeffler said she has no interest in taking Shafer’s place leading the state party. And really — why would she? She is arguably having as much impact or more on local politics, on her own terms, with her own money.

But she’s not ruling anything else out, including another run for office, which would clearly be boosted by the kind of year-round program she’s planning for 2023 and beyond. She’s frequently on the short list of names mentioned for candidates for governor in 2026.

“I don’t have plans at this time. And I don’t know why I would ever close the door,” she said. “Because I did it once and I would do it all over again.”