Stay in! Get out! Dizzying messages in Georgia U.S. Senate race

Trump praises Collins, Loeffler for both running; Dems urge Lieberman to quit

Even though the race for Georgia’s Senate special election features 21 candidates who qualified to run for the same seat, the top Democrats and Republicans in the contest might as well be in parallel universes. And nothing exemplified that as much as the events Friday.

President Donald Trump wants U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her top GOP rival, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, to both stay in the messy free-for-all. Democrats are begging Matt Lieberman, a longshot contender, to give up.

Let’s start with the Democratic side first. Over the last week, a very public campaign intensified to encourage Lieberman, the son of the former vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, to step aside and make way for the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the establishment favorite.

The party’s last two gubernatorial nominees – Stacey Abrams and Jason Carter called for Lieberman to drop his bid. Former President Barack Obama and ex-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the pastor this week. Jewish groups called for Lieberman to quit. Even a former middle school student aired her issues with his grading.

“He almost ruined books for me,” wrote Aviva Shen, a Slate editor of her C+ while an eighth grader in Lieberman’s class. “Now, apparently, he’s moved on to trying to ruin democracy.”

Contrast that with Trump’s remarks at a rally aimed at wooing Black voters in Atlanta on Friday. He’s not taking sides between Loeffler and Collins, both key allies of his, nor is he worried a divide could hurt Republicans.

Matt Lieberman, an entrepreneur and son of former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, became the first Democrat to enter the race for retiring Republican Johnny Isakson s seat.  (CONTRIBUTED)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

“Well, I sort of like it. You know why? They’re going to be in there fighting, fighting, fighting. Don’t anybody get out. And everybody’s going to come with them. And the only thing I know for sure, they’re all going to vote for me,” Trump said.

He winked toward Gov. Brian Kemp, who appointed Loeffler to the seat over Collins.

“So Brian, don’t let them get out. Don’t let any of them get out.”

That won’t be a problem, much as Kemp would have loved for Collins to drop his bid. After initial overtures to Collins earlier this year to clear the field, the two Republicans are headed toward November locked in a tight race for a spot in a January runoff.

So why the differing messages? While some Georgia Republicans worry the race to the right could hurt either one of the candidates in a runoff, they see the intensity around the race as a silver lining. Trump is deadlocked with Joe Biden in recent polls, and he’ll need every edge he can get to defeat the Democrat.

09/25/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Sen. Doug Collins is escorted into the ballroom with other politicians during a Blacks for Trump campaign rally at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta, Friday, September 25, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

At the same time, most GOP strategists see little chance of squeezing out Warnock in the race. The candidates themselves frame it as a Republican-on-Republican feud to square off against Warnock in the runoff.

“The biggest thing here is that the Republican Party needs to turn out,” said Collins on Friday shortly after Trump spoke. “We’re going to win our primary. The governor decided to have a primary in November, and that’s what we’re having.”

Loeffler, who has recently stepped up her TV ad attacks on Warnock, offered a similar view: “I’m 100% voting with President Trump. So, look, I’ve carved out my own space.”

Still, local and national Democrats have grown increasingly worried by the current state of polling, which shows Warnock knotted up with Collins and Loeffler around 20%. If those dynamics hold, it raises the possibility that Lieberman will draw just enough votes from Warnock to squeeze him out of the runoff.

The trend lines suggest otherwise. Recent polls show Warnock on the rise and Lieberman hovering around single digits. With a huge fundraising advantage, the pastor’s campaign has blanketed the airwaves, and Abrams and other prominent supporters are rallying their networks.

Even Warnock’s Democratic skeptics expect him to substantially increase his vote share, particularly as he appeals Black voters, a bloc of crucial voters who polls show are still relatively up for grabs.

Still, the Democratic outrage at Lieberman underscores the angst over the race, which could determine control of a divided U.S. Senate in January. And Lieberman has stoked more criticism with social media messages, including his reaction to Obama’s endorsement.

“Congrats on endorsement from 44 who has endorsed every DC-approved senate candidate,” he tweeted toward Warnock. “And all the endorsements from current US senators who have also endorsed everyone else Chuck Schumer has asked them to.”

Then: “No, you won’t be beholden to the bosses at all....”