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Casting call: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp holding public auditions for U.S. Senate

Applicants include one of Donald Trump’s biggest defenders in the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich’s daughter and a man who kills hogs for a living

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

Married white governor seeks senatorial companion who is interested but not too eager. Must enjoy gridlock and prickly egos. Prudes OK, but no Democrats. One-year commitment, may go longer if things work out.

OK, so Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp didn’t really place a personal ad to fill U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s soon-to-be vacant seat. But he did launch a process that perhaps unprecedented in Senate history — inviting any Georgian who is at least 30 years old (the constitutionally required age to be a senator) to apply for the job.

Clockwise from top left: Doug Colllins, Jan Jones, Tom Price, Martha Zoller

And apply they have — nearly 500 people have gone online and submitted their resumes, which have been posted on the governor’s website.

Kemp has not said when the application process will close, nor when he will name a replacement for Isakson, who is leaving at the end of the year due to ill health. The governor has also not committed himself to picking one of applicants.

It’s a good bet that the governor won’t bestow the prize on some of the more obscure candidates, including the front man for a band called Big Mike and the Booty Papas or the owner of a hog-killing business, who presumably knows a thing or two about pork-barrel politics.

A number of Democrats have also applied, bless their hearts, almost certainly to no avail.

Whoever is appointed will also have to hold the seat in a special election next year, which argues for a candidate who has the political and fundraising chops to win a statewide election on short notice. The winner in 2020 will also face election again in 2022, when Isakson’s term will be up.

Perhaps the most high-profile applicant is U.S. Rep. Doug Collins from Gainesville, who, as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, has become one of the most zealous House defenders of President Donald Trump. None of the state’s other eight Republican House members has so far applied.

Another applicant with a Trump connection is Tom Price from Roswell, who left Congress in 2017 to become Trump’s health secretary, only to resign after less than seven months in office amid criticism of his high-flying travel practices.

Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg, Randy Evans, a well-connected lawyer who has represented both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Governor Sonny Perdue, has also applied, as has Jackie Gingrich Cushman, Gingrich’s daughter who is (perhaps not coincidentally) also promoting a new book arguing for more civility in politics.

Also among the applicants are Jack Kingston and Paul Broun, two former House members who were defeated in the GOP primary the last time a Senate seat opened in Georgia in 2014. Kingston finished second in that race behind the eventual winner, U.S. Senator David Purdue; Broun finished fifth.

Another name to keep an eye on: Jack Markwalter, a politically connected Atlanta business executive who applied late in the process. While Markwalter has no political experience, his resume is very similar to that of Perdue, who came out of the business world to claim a Senate seat in 2014.

However, one salient demographic fact may shape the process — every previous U.S. Senator who has represented the Peach State in its long and illustrious history, save one, has been a white man, giving Kemp the opportunity to make history with his appointment. (The lone exception was Rebecca Latimer Felton, who was picked in 1922, at the age of 87, to serve just one day by a governor using the appointment to pique a political rival.)

Topping the list of female applicants is State Rep. Jan Jones from Milton, who as speaker pro tem, is the legislature’s highest-ranking Republican woman.

Another possibility is former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission who narrowly lost statewide races for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014. However, Handel has not applied, as she’s running to reclaim the House seat she lost in 2018.

While Handel has valuable statewide name recognition, her won-loss record in statewide races (one win, two losses)  and her 2018 defeat would likely give Kemp pause if he’s trying to pick someone who can hold the seat.

Another notable woman among the applicants is Martha Zoller, a former conservative talk show host from Gainesville who has worked as an adviser to both Perdue and Kemp. She lost a primary runoff to Collins in 2012.

Democrats have so far mostly held their fire on this race, waiting for Kemp’s appointment to be made before committing to running in the special election. The only Democrat who has jumped in so far is Mark Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.

Perdue’s term is also up in 2020, which means both of Georgia’s Senate seats will be on the ballot next year as Republicans try to preserve their three-seat majority.

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