The Jolt: On the GOP side of a Senate race, a gender fight breaks into the open

FILE -- Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) wait to greet President Donald Trump at the airport in Atlanta on Sept. 25, 2020. Collins is running in a special election against Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat; but the Democrat in that race, Raphael Warnock, is now leading in a poll. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)
FILE -- Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) wait to greet President Donald Trump at the airport in Atlanta on Sept. 25, 2020. Collins is running in a special election against Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat; but the Democrat in that race, Raphael Warnock, is now leading in a poll. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)

Credit: Wire

Credit: Wire

It is no secret that women have struggled to survive internal Republican clashes in Georgia. Ask state Sen. Renee Unterman, who lost her bid for the Seventh District congressional seat in May. Ask Karen Handel, who ran for governor and U.S. Senate before she won that Sixth District congressional seat in 2017.

The issue of gender was built into U.S. Senate race No. 2. Republican Kelly Loeffler was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to boost the GOP’s standing with suburban women – a plan compromised by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins' challenge from the right.

But until this week, the gender issue was left to allies who could be disavowed if necessary. Then during Monday’s U.S. Senate debate, Collins asked about an Andy Warhol portrait of Mao Zedong that was hanging in Loeffler’s Buckhead manse in 2018 (and now the subject of a Collins attack ad). Loeffler cut loose:

“You’ve attacked my hair, my makeup, how I talk, my clothes, where I’m from,” said Loeffler, a former financial executive. “You’ve lied about me. You lie about my family. And let me tell you, here’s the truth: I’m here because I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”

Collins replied that he’d never made a personal attack on Loeffler. But his followers have established Facebook and Twitter accounts under the name of Buckhead Barbie, replete with images of the incumbent senator in pink chiffon.

On Wednesday, during a Collins campaign event in Elijay, House Speaker David Ralston sprinkled some gasoline on the fire.

“I know Doug,” said Ralston. “I really don’t know his opponent. I know she’s got a lot of money. I know she married well. I know they’ve got three or four jets. She was supposed to be getting the votes of suburban moms, but the ones I talk to say, ‘She ain’t like me. We’re still working on our first jet at our house.’”

The backlash has been bipartisan. Speaking up for Loeffler so far has been 14th District congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Loeffler “is a strong conservative woman, and unfortunately because of that, she’s no stranger to sexist comments like this. Especially, from career politicians,” Blackburn wrote on Twitter.

Mara Davis, a prominent local Democratic activist, compared Ralston’s remarks to senators who asked U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett “who does the laundry or pretending you can’t pronounce Kamala Harris’s name.”

And Loeffler’s campaign called Ralston’s remarks “sexist trash.”

“Pretty clear they’re terrified of losing to a strong conservative woman who’s earned everything she’s ever gotten,” said her spokesman, Stephen Lawson.

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If any of your friends wonder why Georgia is still in play with less than two weeks left in the 2020 presidential campaign, our AJC colleague Mark Niesse has your water cooler – no, strike that – Zoom ammunition.

According to the newspaper’s analysis of Georgia’s voter registration rolls, which closed earlier this month, 1 million new voters have been added since 2016, making the state’s electorate younger and more racially diverse.

Almost half of those new voters are under 35, and nearly two-thirds are people of color. White voters now make up 53% of all registered voters in Georgia.

The white electorate was 57% in 2016, and 59% in 2012.

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To hold Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District, Republicans need to appeal to the moderate and independent voters in Gwinnett County, an increasingly diverse, immigrant-heavy part of suburban Atlanta.

Rich McCormick, an emergency room doctor and former Marine with a degree from the Morehouse School of Medicine, appeared to fit the bill. He’s the GOP nominee.

But new support from north Georgia could complicate McCormick’s efforts to build a broader coalition. On Tuesday, Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-supporting Republican running unopposed in the 14th District and known for posting racist and offensive videos on social media, endorsed McCormick.

She helpfully attached a picture of the two side-hugging at a recent GOP event in her Twitter post:

“Rich McCormick is a Marine, ER doctor, husband, father, and has a huge heart for ALL people!,” Greene wrote. “He’s running against a radical communist college professor @Carolyn4GA7 👎 she’s horrible & has never accomplished anything.”

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That college professor is Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, McCormick’s opponent, who pounced immediately. “As we’ve said all along, Rich McCormick’s political views are aligned with the racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the far right,” her campaign said.

CNN recently rated the Seventh District as the mostly likely U.S. House seat in the nation to flip in November. U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, currently holds it.

What’s interesting is that McCormick isn’t exactly celebrating the Greene endorsement. It wasn’t retweeted onto his timeline or highlighted in a press release. But he isn’t running from it, either.

“Marjorie and Rich certainly don’t agree on everything and he has condemned some of her comments,” McCormick spokesman John Simpson said. “The only thing to take from this picture is Rich and Marjorie both agree that he is the best candidate to represent GA 7 in Congress.”

Simpson reminded us that McCormick condemned Greene in August after she falsely accused George Soros of assisting Nazis as a child. McCormick, who himself had criticized Soros’s support of Democratic causes, said Greene should apologize and accused her of spreading an anti-Semitic conspiracy.

McCormick’s campaign is now hoping to shift the narrative by promoting a new ad that accuses Bourdeaux of extremist ties and supporting defunding the police. Her campaign says it is a deflection and full of inaccurate claims about her platform.

“A new attack ad from Rich McCormick leans on racist tropes in a desperate, last-ditch scramble to save his flailing campaign,” her campaign said this morning.

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The latest TV attack on U.S. Senate candidate Doug Collins by Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler serves up an image of her GOP rival as “the perfect picture of a Washington career politician.”

And who is pictured embracing Collins? Stacey Abrams.

The ad, airing on Fox News, comes as Collins batters his Republican rival over a portrait of former Chinese dictator Mao Zedong in her foyer. It also marks a return to the Abrams-bashing that both Republican candidates have engaged in throughout the grueling special election fight.

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President Trump and his advisers have repeatedly contemplated the firing of former Atlanta attorney and current FBI Director Chris Wray after Election Day — out of Trump’s frustration that federal law enforcement has not delivered his campaign the kind of last-minute boost provided by the FBI four years ago, according to the Washington Post.

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The Newnan Times-Herald tells us that there’s a move afoot to have the city of Chattahoochee Hills remove itself from Fulton County and become part of Coweta County. The action would require a two-thirds vote by a grand jury in each county -- “a process that has been tried in Georgia but never yet succeeded.”

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U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar was at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday, apparently for morale boosting purposes. Azar was asked about widespread reports that the Trump administration had improperly interfered with the publicly issued reports and recommendations by the CDC during the pandemic.

“I think some of the people who comment are — not having actually lived in or led this organization during this type of a crisis, fail to appreciate that,” Azar said.

For the record, James Curran, the dean of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and former head of the CDC said this just last week, according to our AJC colleague Ariel Hart:

“I was there with the Reagan administration, and Ronald Reagan didn’t say the word (AIDS) in public for six years after the first cases were reported,” Curran said. “But CDC was never prevented from saying what we thought needed to be said. And we were never kept away from the press the way the CDC now is with COVID. With COVID, there’s interference. Which is even worse than neglect in many ways. The money is flowing. But the thing that isn’t flowing is the expertise and access to expertise.”

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s super PAC is pumping another $3.4 million to help Democrat Jon Ossoff oust U.S. Sen. David Perdue as the challenger’s campaign rumbles about an outright win in November.

Ossoff released a memo this week with polling that showed him -- no surprise, given it was conducted by his campaign -- with a lead over the Republican and within striking distance of a majority-vote needed to avoid a runoff. Ossoff and other Democratic outlets have attacked Perdue on his stock trades during the pandemic, and on Republican efforts to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional. So these lines in the memo stood out:

Senator Perdue was recently forced to start running defensive ads to attempt to explain his position on both of these. He has even been forced to spend millions running ads bragging that the authorities have not yet indicted him.

By mocking Senator Kamala Harris' heritage at a Trump rally over the weekend, Perdue further undermined his standing with suburban women and minority voters already disgusted by the divisive and juvenile antics of Donald Trump’s GOP.

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Our AJC colleague Eric Sturgis has a report on the potential impact young voters could have this year -- if they show up:

A key factor in this election cycle is whether young Georgians will vote in large numbers. About one in five active Georgia voters are younger than 29. Recent history shows that if they vote, they can decide elections.

Traditionally, 18 to 29-year-olds vote at lower percentages than any age group. More than 150,000 young Georgians have cast ballots thus far, state data shows.

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In endorsement news: Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is backing Democrat Jon Ossoff’s bid to unseat Republican David Perdue.

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