Loeffler launches group to boost GOP turnout, promote ‘big tent’ policies

Following her Jan. 5 defeat to Democrat Raphael Warnock, former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler announced formation of Greater Georgia, what she sees as the GOP answer to the Fair Fight voting rights group that Stacey Abrams formed in 2018 after losing the state's race for governor.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Following her Jan. 5 defeat to Democrat Raphael Warnock, former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler announced formation of Greater Georgia, what she sees as the GOP answer to the Fair Fight voting rights group that Stacey Abrams formed in 2018 after losing the state's race for governor. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Republican is weighing a 2022 comeback bid

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is wading back into Georgia politics weeks after her runoff defeat with the start of a new voter registration group aimed at helping Republicans recover from stunning Democratic victories in November and January.

The former financial executive framed the launch Monday of Greater Georgia, a Republican answer to the powerful Fair Fight voting rights group that Stacey Abrams started days after her 2018 defeat in the race for governor.

In her first extensive interview since her Jan. 5 loss to Raphael Warnock, Loeffler said the group will focus on a trio of initiatives: registering droves of likely conservative voters, building a network to promote “big tent” proposals and advocating for conservative electoral policies.

“It’s the culmination of what I learned and what I saw firsthand in Georgia’s biggest election in its history,” she said of GOP losses in Georgia’s November presidential election and the Senate runoffs. “You often learn more when you’re not successful than when you are, and that’s our starting point.”

She also confirmed she was weighing a 2022 rematch against Warnock, the Democratic pastor who defeated her by roughly 93,000 votes out of nearly 4.5 million cast. Ex-U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who lost in the other Senate runoff, and former Loeffler GOP foe Doug Collins are both exploring bids as well.

The first part of Loeffler’s initiative is an expensive and painstaking effort to reach the roughly 2 million Georgians she said are likely to vote for the GOP if they are mobilized. Loeffler said Democrats are far outpacing Republicans in new voter registrations, and the GOP risks slipping further behind.

Former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler says she is considering another run against Democrat Raphael Warnock, who beat her in a runoff election Jan. 5. Other Republicans who could enter next year's race include former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
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Former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler says she is considering another run against Democrat Raphael Warnock, who beat her in a runoff election Jan. 5. Other Republicans who could enter next year's race include former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Another tenet centers on shoring up ground-game infrastructure to amplify conservative messaging “clearly and consistently — not just in an election year.” She said Democrats leveraged their robust grassroots advantage in the runoffs, while her campaign had to build an operation “from scratch.”

“We always talk about wanting to have a big tent. We can’t grow the tent if we take the tent down every two years,” she said, adding that it would complement the state GOP. “Greater Georgia is designed to make sure that every campaign has access to a united resource that will help conservatives.”

The third part aims to push conservative electoral policies as state lawmakers weigh a range of new voting restrictions after the GOP defeats. Loeffler said her group aims for “transparency and uniformity,” such as endorsing a call for ID requirements for absentee ballots that critics say are unnecessary.

“We had unprecedented changes to our election laws in 2020 because of the pandemic,” Loeffler said. “And we need to take a really hard look at the impact of those changes and why it drove trust in our elections so far down.”

In the interview, Loeffler wouldn’t directly acknowledge former President Donald Trump’s central role in eroding confidence in the vote. Trump and his allies relentlessly promoted false claims of systemic voter fraud and tried to overturn his election defeat.

Loeffler endorsed many of his falsehoods, including backing litigation that sought to invalidate Georgia’s election and initially supporting the effort to formally challenge Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in Congress. She dropped her plans to contest the results shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

During the U.S. Senate runoff campaign, Kelly Loeffler stressed her close alignment with then-President Donald Trump. Following his defeat in November, she also endorsed many of the falsehoods he spread about the election, including backing litigation that sought to invalidate the outcome in Georgia and initially supporting the effort to formally challenge Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in Congress. She dropped her plans to contest the results shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
During the U.S. Senate runoff campaign, Kelly Loeffler stressed her close alignment with then-President Donald Trump. Following his defeat in November, she also endorsed many of the falsehoods he spread about the election, including backing litigation that sought to invalidate the outcome in Georgia and initially supporting the effort to formally challenge Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in Congress. She dropped her plans to contest the results shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

“Well, I think the biggest thing that we can do right now, starting out, is to look forward,” she said, citing a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that found most voters support a requirement to include a copy of their ID to cast a ballot by mail. In the same poll, 58% of respondents said they did not think there was widespread voter fraud in the presidential election.

“What we have to do is look forward and say, OK, we know that there are certain safeguards that the majority of Georgians support,” Loeffler said.

‘Certainly on the table’

Loeffler’s initiative is designed to serve as a GOP counterweight to Fair Fight, the Abrams-backed juggernaut that has financed a vast grassroots network, pushed voting rights measures in court and at the Statehouse, and promoted causes ranging from new transit funding to an expansion of Medicaid.

The group has also emerged as one of the most potent Democratic-allied PACs in the nation, raising roughly $100 million since Abrams launched it the same day she ended her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2018.

“Right now there is no answer on the Republican side to a comprehensive platform that provides the resources, the scale, the network, the message, the communications platform that we need for statewide success in 2022 and beyond,” Loeffler said.

The U.S. Senate seat held by Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, will be up for election again next year.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
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The U.S. Senate seat held by Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, will be up for election again next year. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Lauren Groh-Wargo, chief executive of Fair Fight Action and a top Abrams aide, dismissed the Republican’s new venture.

“If Kelly Loeffler wants to spend even more of her money on losing causes, she is free to do so,” Groh-Wargo said. “And she is free to appropriately name her group ‘Unfair Fight.’ ”

Loeffler is a complicated messenger for a “big tent” philosophy. She was picked by Gov. Brian Kemp in part because he hoped her business background could help the party appeal to more women alienated by Trump.

But pulled to the right in the special election, Loeffler boasted of being more “conservative than Attila the Hun” and accepted the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was recently stripped of her congressional committee assignments for her offensive views.

In a recent interview, Kemp lamented that Loeffler couldn’t run the campaign he envisioned because of “distractions.” Loeffler said she hoped to present an image through her new group that focused on being a “voice for Georgians.”

She didn’t say how much of her substantial fortune she would put behind the organization, though she said she’s outlined her plans with a number of influential GOP donors and power brokers.

“The one common thread from every call,” she said, “is we need to have more voters, we need to have a bigger tent and we need to have election integrity. Those turned out to be the three tenets that were building this platform.”

Loeffler was picked by Kemp in 2019 to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, and she immediately spent much of the next year brawling with Collins, then a U.S. House member, over who was the more conservative lawmaker.

She defeated Collins by 6 points in a crowded November special election to square off against Warnock, one of two Senate runoffs that determined control of the chamber. In the second race, Jon Ossoff ousted Perdue for a full six-year term.

When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp picked Kelly Loeffler to fill the seat U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson gave up for health reasons, he pictured her as a candidate who could bring women back to the Republican Party who had been alienated by President Donald Trump. But she swung to the right when she met a campaign challenge from former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, left.  (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
Caption
When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp picked Kelly Loeffler to fill the seat U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson gave up for health reasons, he pictured her as a candidate who could bring women back to the Republican Party who had been alienated by President Donald Trump. But she swung to the right when she met a campaign challenge from former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, left. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

In all, Loeffler and her husband, Jeff Sprecher, the chief executive of an Atlanta-based financial giant, pumped more than $31 million of their own fortune into the campaign.

Pressed on the possibility of a comeback next year, she said “it’s certainly on the table” but she’s in no hurry to decide.

“Frankly, I think what we have to do is the work that I’m doing right now. I don’t know if any Republican can win if we don’t shore up what we’re doing around voter registration, engagement and election integrity,” she said.

“We have to make sure that Georgia’s voters feel like their voice is being heard,” Loeffler said. “We have to grow the party. And we have to make sure that we have the infrastructure for Republicans so they compete on the ground.”

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