Republican abandons longshot challenge to Loeffler in Georgia

A. Wayne Johnson, AJC file

Endorses Doug Collins

Georgia’s wild U.S. Senate special election just lost its first candidate.

A. Wayne Johnson dropped out of the 21-candidate contest on Thursday and endorsed U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, though his decision came so close to the November vote that his name will remain on ballots.

“It has become clear to me that the time has come for me to take the responsible action of removing myself from the field of candidates in order to allow the voters of Georgia to focus their attention on a truly electable candidate,” Johnson said in a statement.

The Republican hovered in the single-digits when included in polls in the race to unseat U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and attracted a tiny fraction of the attention devoted to her and other leading contenders.

About the Senate special election

The November special election for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat features 21 candidates on the same ballot with no party primary to filter out nominees.

If no one gets a majority of the vote – all but certain given the number of candidates - the two top finishers will square off in a January runoff.

Because of the dynamics, it means there’s likely to be one Republican and one Democrat in January matchup. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is Loeffler’s most formidable GOP challenger, and polls show them in a close race. Raphael Warnock is the establishment-backed Democrat, though he faces competition from educator Matt Lieberman and former federal prosecutor Ed Tarver from his party’s base.

The race is separate from Georgia’s other U.S. Senate contest. Republican David Perdue, who is seeking a second term in office, faces Democrat Jon Ossoff and Libertarian Shane Hazel. That race, too could head to a runoff.

Still, he made waves when he initially maneuvered for the seat. That move took place last year when he resigned from a top post in the federal government’s trillion-dollar student financial aid agency to seek Gov. Brian Kemp’s appointment.

He focused his campaign on a plan to cancel much of the roughly $53 billion in student loans that Georgians owe to the federal government and compensate those who have repaid their loans. He’d finance the plan by levying a new 1% tax on revenue generated by all employers.

But he gained little attention in the messy contest, which features an escalating back-and-forth between Loeffler and Collins and the emergence of Democrat Raphael Warnock.

In his withdrawal statement, Johnson said that Collins was the most qualified candidate in the race in part because “he understands first-hand the kitchen table issues that are affecting the citizens of Georgia.“

”I also identify with Doug as coming from a hard working middle-class family, as a military veteran, a father and as a fellow public servant."

State and national Democrats have waged an extraordinary public campaign to urge another contender to quit his bid to clear the way for Warnock: Matt Lieberman, an educator and son of former vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman. He’s refused those calls.

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