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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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Georgia Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson will resign at the end of the year

Decision means both of the Peach State’s Senate seats will be up in 2020

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two days after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from his kidney, Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia has announced he will resign at the end of the year because due to poor health.

The decision means that both of the Peach State’s Senate seats will be open in 2020, giving Republicans another seat to defend in as they try to maintain their three-seat majority in Congress’s upper chamber.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

Isakson, who has been battling Parkinson’s disease, underwent surgery on August 26 for removal of a renal carcinoma. In a statement announcing his resignation, he said, “I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff.”

“With the mounting health challenges I am facing, I have concluded that I will not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve,” he said. “It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state.”

Republican Governor Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement for Isakson to serve until a special election is held in November 2020 to fill the two years remaining on his Senate term.

The seat of the state’s other Republican senator, David Perdue, is also up for election in 2020, putting both seats on the ballot.

However, under state law, there will be no party primaries for Isakson’s seat. Candidates from all parties will run in the same race, with the top two finishers meeting in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

That last time that happened in Georgia, in 2017 in the 6th U.S. House district, it triggered a contentious nationalized race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff during which the candidates blew through $50 million. Handel won that race, although she lost the seat to Democrat Lucy McBath in 2018.

One possible Democratic contender for Isakson’s seat, Stacey Abrams, the party’s unsuccessful candidate against Kemp in 2018, quickly announced that she would not be a candidate. She had earlier passed on challenging Perdue.

Isakson, 74, was first elected to the Senate in 2004 after losing campaigns for governor in 1990 and Senate in 1996. He was re-elected easily in 2010 and 2016, becoming the first Republican in state history to win three Senate elections.

His decision to retire brings to a close a storied career in Georgia GOP politics, dating back to the early 1970s when he was among a small number of Republicans serving in the Democrat-dominated legislature, representing suburban Cobb County near Atlanta.

In 1990, Isakson gave up his legislative seat to run for governor against conservative Democrat Zell Miller, falling short but coming closer than any Republican had in decades — a portent of the rising fortunes for a GOP that now dominates state politics.

In 1999, Isakson was elected to the U.S. House to succeed former Speaker Newt Gingrich and went to the Senate five years later when Miller retired.

In 2013, Isakson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but sought re-election in 2016 as he battled the illness. However, this summer he was seriously injured in a fall at his Washington home. After returning to Georgia for the congressional recess, he underwent surgery to remove what his office described as “a 2-centimeter renal cell carcinoma” from his kidney.

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Stacey Abrams won’t challenge U.S. Senator David Perdue in Georgia in 2020

Decision deprives Democrats of their top prospect to unseat Republican incumbent

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Withstanding intense lobbying from Democratic leaders to run, Stacey Abrams has announced she will not challenge Georgia Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue in 2020, leaving Democrats without a top-tier candidate for a seat they hope to flip.

“I am so grateful for all the support and encouragement that I’ve received,” Abrams said in a video posted on Twitter. “However, the fights to be waged require a deep commitment to the job, and I do not see the U.S. Senate as the best role for me in this battle for our nation’s future.”

Stacey Abrams announces she won’t run for Senate in 2020 (From Twitter)

Addressing her political future, Abrams said, “I still don’t know exactly what’s next for me” — leaving open the possibility of seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, a idea she has discussed openly in recent months.

Abrams also took a parting shot at Perdue, saying she would work in 2020 to elect “a Georgian who cares more about protecting our farmers and our families than protecting the Trump administration.”

Abrams, 45, the former minority leader of the Georgia House, burst on to the national political stage in 2018 in the Georgia governor’s race, hoping to make history as the first African American woman ever elected governor of a U.S. state. Despite an avalanche of media attention, she lost to Republican Governor Brian Kemp by 55,000 votes.

Abrams, complaining that Kemp had mismanaged the election as secretary of state, refused to concede, although she eventually acknowledged him as the winner. She then founded a group called Fair Fight Action, which filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s election processes and demanding changes before the 2020 election.

Since her defeat, Abrams had been courted by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to run against Perdue, who is seeking his second term in 2020. She was selected to give the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in February.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Georgia since 1996, but Abrams’s near victory over Kemp made her the party’s top prospect to take on Perdue. With Abrams out, that mantle falls, for the moment, on former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

Abrams’s decision was met with some glee at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which fired off a statement from NRSC spokesman Jesse Hunt:

“Stacey Abrams handed Chuck Schumer his most embarrassing recruiting fail of the cycle, leaving Georgia Democrats stuck with an assortment of second-tier candidates,” Hunt said. “Her decision is the latest in a string of high-profile Democrats who have rejected Schumer’s pitch out of fear of facing formidable Republican Senators next fall.”

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Stewart Boss, fired back: “Stacey and Georgia Democrats laid a strong foundation for 2020, and Senator Perdue will be held accountable for driving up health care costs, giving big corporations and millionaires like himself a tax break, and putting the president ahead of what’s right.”

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, which means Democrats will need to flip four seats in 2020 to take control, unless Trump loses, in which case they can control the Senate with a shift of three seats and the vice presidency.

Of the seats up next year, 21 are held by Republicans and just 13 by Democrats. However, most of those GOP seats are in states that tilt Republican; Democrats are hoping to add Georgia to a short list of GOP targets that includes seats in Colorado, Maine, Arizona and Iowa.

Democrats will also have to defend seats in heavily Republican Alabama and Michigan, which Trump carried in 2016.

A total of 13 Southern seats — 11 Republican and two Democratic — are up in 2020. Incumbents are expected to run for re-election for all of those seats except Tennessee, where Lamar Alexander is retiring.

Races in Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina are likely to be competitive, while in Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could face both primary and Democratic opposition.

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