leadConservative political expert and Fox News star Sean Hannity is urging Republican leaders in Georgia to pick a “rock star” for the state’s vacant Senate seat: Rep. Doug Collins, R-G.A.
Collins is “the single best choice to fill that Senate seat,” Hannity said in response to a report that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Republican, was set to appoint businesswoman Kelly Loeffler.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-G.A., is stepping down at the end of the year because of health issues.
Loeffler is a mega-donor to Republican establishment figures, such as Mitt Romney’s Super PAC — but is no ally to President Donald Trump, which sparked criticism from Hannity.
“I have no idea what the Republican governor of Georgia is doing,” Hannity said on his Monday show. He called Collins a “rock star” and a natural leader for conservative voters to rally behind.
Collins “singlehandedly helped spearhead the GOP’s impeachment-coup-resistance with great, great courage and conviction — unlike so many others,” he said. “I don’t know why the governor of Georgia … Brian Kemp is appointing [a person] who appears to be an untested, big-Republican Romney donor described by many as a ‘RINO.'”
The move by the Georgia governor bypasses Trump’s preferred pick and is a gamble that a moderate woman can garner enough support to hold onto the seat next year.
Trump made clear that he preferred Collins to Loeffler but he has resigned himself from making the pick, according to a person inside the White House.
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Loeffler, co-owner of the Atlanta Dream professional woman’s basketball franchise, will have to defend the seat next November as Republicans battle to maintain control of the Senate and the White House.
Collins has publicly left open the door to running against her.
Loeffler is the CEO of financial services firm Bakkt, which offers a regulated market for Bitcoin. She was previously an executive at Intercontinental Exchange, a behemoth founded by her husband that owns the New York Stock Exchange. Bakkt is a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange.
The Senate seat will be up for grabs again in November 2020 in an open-to-all special election for the final two years of Isakson’s term. Also on the ballot will be Republican Sen. David Perdue, another vocal Trump defender. With both of Georgia’s GOP-held Senate seats on the ballot alongside Trump in 2020, the race is raising the state’s profile as a political battleground where Republicans still dominate but Democrats have made substantial inroads in recent elections.
A Loeffler victory in 2020 would make her the first woman elected to the Senate from Georgia.
Kemp’s selection of Loeffler was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. News of the choice set off infighting among Republicans almost immediately, with several conservative groups and Trump allies attacking Loeffler for being a political novice and appearing too moderate.
The debate centers on who can best help the GOP position itself for success next year in Georgia.
“This is a strategic effort on (Kemp’s) part to diversify the party but also to reclaim some ground in metro Atlanta with college-educated white women,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican political adviser in Georgia who served as communications director under former Gov. Nathan Deal.
In bypassing Collins, who would have brought instant name recognition and a ready-built campaign coffer, Kemp risked angering Trump and triggering a Collins challenge to his appointee. And Kemp is keenly aware that a single tweet from the president — or special segment from Hannity — could be the difference between victory and defeat for Loeffler. Such a tweet was credited with helping Kemp pull off an upset victory in last year’s GOP primary for Georgia governor.
The Associated Press contributed to this article