U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler flanked by Gov. Brian Kemp (L) and Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser (R) speaks during a press conference at the First Care Women’s Clinic in Marietta Friday, February 14, 2020. (Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

The Jolt: The Kelly Loeffler-Doug Collins fight is dialed up to 11

If you think the Republican-on-Republican brawl over U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat has already gotten nasty, just wait. It’s about to get a lot worse.

We’re told that Loeffler’s allies are forming an outside group that will match anything U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville spends with attack ads. The goal is to neutralize anything he does, whether it be digital hits or costlier TV fights.

The pro-Loeffler forces also distributed a memo by Public Opinion Strategies to Washington and Georgia operatives and donors that showed a tight race between Loeffler and Collins, echoing a recent UGA poll.

It contended that her vote share grew sharpest among the bloc of voters that Collins is relying upon: Conservative Republicans and voters who approve of President Donald Trump. 

The memo, of course, offers a rose-tinged portrait of the race. But it does provide a window into how Loeffler’s operatives view the next year of campaigning. 

Collins, meanwhile, has only stepped up his attacks on the incumbent. One of his latest features a doctored image of Loeffler splashing cash

We’re told that GIF and others to come are the work of a scrappy digital firm Collins found only after other more expensive vendors were warned against working for him.

Collins spokesman Dan McLagan on Tuesday called Loeffler a “human-sized Mike Bloomberg spending the gross national product of Guatemala on her campaign while hiding from reporters.”

Another sign that Loeffler is looking for ways to spend money: A 30-second TV spot released this morning features the new senator against the backdrop of an American flag as she takes a swipe -- not at Collins, but Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders.

“I’m Kelly Loeffler and I approve this message because I believe in America, that Bernie Sanders’ radical ideas are dangerous and that socialism risks everything that makes us great,” she says. 

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January 28, 2020 Atlanta: U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (center) shakes hands with members of the House before he addressed the Georgia House on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020 as its Chaplin of the day. This coming just hours after news broke that Collins is preparing to challenge U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and avoided any mention of seeking a higher office. In his sermon and closing prayer, Collins honored Rep. Jay Powell, the House Rules Committee chairman who died in November and who Collins described as a mentor. Speaker David Ralston signaled his support of the soon-to-be senate candidate, stopping short of an explicit endorsement. Collins and Ralston have a strong relationship dating back to their time as state house colleagues; Collins voted for Ralston’s speakership while deployed in Iraq. “He is my friend. He has stood by me when few would,” Ralston said.”And I don’t forget things like that.” JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Last month, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, apologized for claiming, in a Fox News appearance, that Democrats were “in love with terrorists.” On Monday, the U.S. Senate candidate was in front of a Hall County civic group. From the Gainesville Times:

[Collins] said Monday that even after the impeachment proceedings, he thinks civility in politics is possible.

“Civility is actually having ideas and vehemently discussing it from both sides and at the end of the day, never believing the other person is evil. I have never had someone on the other side that I believed was truly evil,” Collins said. “I believe they’re wrong, but not evil. The discourse in our country has to take a different level.”

***

We’ve got some tips on what to watch for in tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, S.C., which undoubtedly will have an impact on Saturday’s vote.

Also note that The State, the newspaper of record in Columbia, S.C., has endorsed Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., in the contest:

The Democratic Party’s presidential nominee will face a formidable general election opponent in Republican President Donald Trump, an incumbent armed with a strong economic record and a force of personality that has spawned a fiercely loyal base of supporters.

It is vital, then, for the Democrats to nominate an energetic, disciplined candidate who can offer voters a powerful yet pragmatic vision of a better America. The Democrats need a nominee who seeks to bring Americans together based on broad common ground — and not divide them along narrow interests.

***

Surely, you’ve been wondering how a state lawmaker might find a way to campaign for a congressional seat while the Legislature is in session. If you’re state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, one of several angling to replace U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, you advocate for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

And not just any amendment. House Resolution 1251, introduced Tuesday, would urge:

“…the Congress of the United States to propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to require a two-thirds approval vote of the House of Representatives in order to begin impeachment proceedings against a sitting president….”

And why? Well, because:

“Despite having been acquitted by the Senate of the articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives, President Trump remains vulnerable to more scurrilous and partisan attacks and unfounded accusations….”

***

It’s one of the smarter lobbying moves we’ve seen this year at the state Capitol. At the outset of this year’s legislative session, signs augured poorly for those generous tax credits that have spurred a film and TV production boom in Georgia.

On Monday, both the House and Senate passed resolutions noting the many jobs the credits have created. Not to be outdone, the Georgia Studio & Infrastructure Alliance, produced and distributed a book through the state Capitol, with the title “#WeAreGaFilm – a look at 60 workers throughout Georgia who have found new careers:

***

In endorsement news:

-- U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California backed the Rev. Raphael Warnock’s bid for Georgia’s U.S. Senate special election. Expect to see more endorsements roll out ahead of next week’s qualifying. 

-- U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, lined up behind U.S. Rep. Doug Collins’ campaign for the same Senate seat against incumbent Kelly Loeffler.

-- The conservative Club for Growth endorsed Rich McCormick in the crowded contest for Georgia’s Seventh District -- snubbing state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford.

-- State Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, has endorsed former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson in her bid to unseat U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.

***

U.S. Senate hopeful Jon Ossoff traveled to a Democratic rival’s home turf on Monday night for a town hall-style gathering.

The event was held in Columbus, where Teresa Tomlinson – who is also looking to challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., -- was mayor of for two terms.

At the campaign event, Ossoff emphasized the problem of racial inequality and criminal justice reform, according to our AJC colleague Sarah Kallis.

“This is a centuries-long legacy of policy. And we need immediate and bold criminal justice reform to redress those wrongs and to ensure it doesn't happen again. And I'm not talking about the kinds of baby steps that Nathan Deal goes for. I'm talking about structural reform of our criminal justice system,” Ossoff said.

One of the attendees was Tonza Thomas, an Ossoff supporter who said she had been arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest in Columbus in 2016. She said the protest was peaceful, and accused then-Mayor Tomlinson of failing to support the movement.

Ossoff declined to weigh in on Thomas’ account, but said he believes in peaceful protest “even if it makes politicians uncomfortable.”

Updated at 1:15 p.m.: A spokeswoman for the Tomlinson campaign has sent a response that includes this information, links included:

The Black Lives Matter group in Columbus held an assembly on July 9, 2016. The local BLM group could not obtain a march permit under local law as the request came in just days before their intended event.

However, Mayor Tomlinson, as public safety director, instructed the police department to coordinate with BLM leadership to arrange and facilitate an assembly in the heart of downtown given the importance to the community and the nation of the public protests related to police shootings around the country. ...

Because attendees at a similar event held in Atlanta just prior to the Columbus BLM event had blocked an exit ramp to the I-75/I-85 connector, Columbus officials negotiated with BLM leaders and received assurances that no public roads would be blocked for the safety of the attendees and others.

However, attendees led by Ms. Tonza Thomas (who was the local NAACP President at the time prior to her removal from office by the National NAACP and revocation of the local chapter’s charter) blocked Veterans Parkway (a major Columbus, GA corridor) endangering lives and causing the re-routing of ambulance and fire truck ingress and egress to Fire Station No. 1 which was in close proximity.

Attendees were given three warnings via bullhorn to vacate the intersection or face arrest. Many attendees cleared the road, however, Ms. Thomas and a few others refused to leave the intersection and were taken into custody without incident.

 In the aftermath of the event, Mayor Tomlinson negotiated with BLM leadership a march the following Saturday. Though the requested march did not meet with local law requiring 30-days notice, Mayor Tomlinson, as Public Safety Director, overrode the Police Department’s perfunctory denial of the march permit and a peaceful and safe march was had. 

***

Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump proposed slashing the budget for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based in Atlanta.

On Monday, he asked Congress to approve an emergency budget request of $2.5 billion to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. The money would be used to develop vaccines and other treatment, as well as for protective equipment, the Associated Press reports.

Democrats, not surprisingly, panned the request as inadequate and lacking a clear strategy on how to deal with the deadly infectious disease. 

***

Bernie Sanders’ Sunday comments on “60 Minutes” about Cuba’s communist leader Fidel Castro resulted in criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. The senator from Vermont said “it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad” about Castro’s authoritarian regime, which some interpreted as praise for the Cuban leader, who died in 2016.

While several Democrats — particularly in Florida — distanced themselves from Sanders’ statements, Republicans piled on too. To many, it’s proof that Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism is out of step with American voters and make it hard to win in November.

However, now some Democrats say U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., went too far in his critique of Sanders’ comments.

“If you look at what he’s promising, it’s the same thing that the Soviets did in Russian, the Germans did in ‘33, the Cubans did in 59 and even Venezuela today. It’s a lie,” Perdue said during a Monday appearance on Fox News.

Nineteen thirty-three is the year Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power in Germany. Democratic Party officials were quick to point out that Sanders’ parents were Jewish immigrants and some members of his family died in the ensuing Holocaust.

***

Sonny Perdue returned to his hometown, Perry, Ga., over the weekend to attend the unveiling of a building that will now carry his name.

The Perdue Arena at the Georgia National Fairgrounds, located right off I-75, is dedicated to the former governor and current U.S. secretary of agriculture.

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