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Ebenezer Baptist pastor Raphael Warnock enters Georgia U.S. Senate special election

Warnock gets an early boost from Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost a governor’s race in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA — Atlanta pastor Ralphael Warnock, who holds the historic pulpit where both Martin Luther King Jr. and his father preached, has entered the special election race for a U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, giving Democrats a high-profile candidate for a seat they have high hopes of flipping.

“I’ve committed my whole life to service and helping people realize their highest potential,” he said in a video announcing his campaign. “I’ve always thought that my impact doesn’t stop at the church door — that’s actually where it starts.”

U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia

Warnock’s campaign launch came with a full-throated endorsement from Stacey Abrams, who energized Democrats nationally in a unsuccessful race for governor in 2018.

“Wherever there is need, Reverend Warnock can be found on the front lines,” Abrams said in a letter sent to her supporters. “And that’s where we need him at this moment. On the front lines of the battle for the soul of America.”

Since 2005, Warnock has been senior pastor at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, from which King helped lead the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The Senate race is his first run for political office.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate seat in December by Governor Brian Kemp to replace Republican Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. Georgia voters will decide in November who fills the remaining two years of Isakson’s term; candidates from all parties will run in a special election, with the top two voter-getters facing each other in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

Warnock’s entry into the race further complicates Loeffler’s effort to hold the seat. She is already facing an intra-party challenge from U.S. Rep. Doug Colllins, who was passed over by Kemp when he filled the Senate vacancy.

Four other candidates will be competing with Warnock for Democratic votes: Matt Lieberman, a businessman from Cobb County and son of former Connecticut U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman; Ed Tarver, a former state senator and federal prosecutor from Augusta; Richard Winfield, a philosophy professor at the University of Georgia; and Tamara Johnson-Shealey, a nail salon owner and law student from DeKalb County.

The next wrinkle in the Senate race may take place in the Georgia legislature, where Collins supporters — with the backing of Democrats — are trying to push through a change in state law to hold party primaries instead of an all-parties special election, setting up a one-on-one match-up between Collins and Loeffler in a Republican-only electorate.

The change would also ensure that a Democrat would get a clean shot at either Loeffler or Collins, rather than battling them both.

Kemp has threatened to veto the bill. However, House Democrats have indicated they may support the change, which could create a veto-proof majority with just 45 out of the 104 Republicans in the House.

Georgia’s other Senate seat, held by Republican David Perdue, is also up in 2020. And while Georgians haven’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 2000, the two Georgia seats could be key to Democrat’s hopes of overturning the GOP’s three-seat majority.

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Georgia’s new Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler takes oath of office

Loeffler, appointed by Governor Brian Kemp, will have to defend her seat in November special election

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Kelly Loeffler, a multi-millionaire Atlanta finance executive and Republican mega-donor who co-owns the city’s WNBA franchise, is now officially Georgia’s newest U.S. Senator.

Loeffler (pronouced LEFF-ler) took the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence on January 6 to replace Johnny Isakson, a veteran GOP lawmaker who resigned his seat due to declining health.

She will seek the remaining two years of Isakson’s term in a special election in November.

Loeffler is sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence (From C-SPAN)

Loeffler, who has no previous elected political experience, was picked for the Senate seat by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in December after a public, two-month search in which he accepted applications from more than 500 would-be senators.

She joins the Senate just in time to participate in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Loeffler’s appointment had initially received a lukewarm reception from the White House and vocal opposition from some of Trump’s most fervent partisans, although that opposition has dissipated over the past month as Loeffler held a series of private meetings with conservative activists around the state.

Loeffler, 50, will become just the second woman to represent the Peach State in the Senate; the first, Rebecca Felton, was appointed to serve a single day back in 1922.

In addition to bringing gender diversity and an outsider persona to the GOP ticket, Loeffler will also be able to tap her personal fortune for the special election, in which candidates from all parties run against each other, with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one wins a majority.

Among the applicants passed over by Kemp was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the House who has said he may challenge Loeffler in the special election. A Collins run could pit the president against Kemp, who won the governorship in 2018 after Trump backed him in the GOP primary.

So far, only one Democrat has entered the special election race — Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat will also be on the ballot in 2020, with Republican incumbent David Perdue trying to fend off a field of Democratic challengers.

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Atlanta finance executive Kelly Loeffler picked for Georgia U.S. Senate seat

Governor Brian Kemp picks Loeffler for vacancy over objections of Trump partisans

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ATLANTA (CFP) — Kelly Loeffler, a multi-millionaire Atlanta finance executive and Republican mega-donor who co-owns the city’s WNBA franchise, will fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.

Loeffler’s appointment to the Senate seat was announced by Governor Brian Kemp on December 4, despite a lukewarm reception of the idea at the White House and vocal opposition from some of President Donald Trump’s most fervent partisans.

She will seek the remaining two years of Isakson’s term in a special election in November.

Kelly Loeffler introduced as Georgia’s new U.S. Senator (From 11Alive via YouTube)

Taking direct aim at the opposition to her appointment, Loeffler (pronouced LEFF-ler) described herself as a “lifelong conservative” who is pro-life, “pro-Second Amendment, pro-Trump, pro-military and pro-wall.”

“I make no apologies for my conservative values, and I look forward to supporting President Trump’s conservative justices,” she said.

In his introduction, Kemp described Loeffler as a “conservative businesswoman and political outsider.”

“Like our president, Kelly is ready to take on the status quo, the politically correct and the special interests,” Kemp said.  “She knows that Washington is fundamentally broken. She knows that we need to drain the swamp.”

Kemp picked Loeffler after a public, two-month search in which he accepted applications from more than 500 would-be senators. She was among the last to apply.

Kemp conceded that his approach was “unorthodox” but said he went into the search with “no favors to repay and no intention of making any backroom deals.”

Loeffler, 50, who had not previously sought elective office, will become just the second woman to represent the Peach State in the Senate; the first, Rebecca Felton, was appointed to serve a single day back in 1922.

In addition to bringing gender diversity and an outsider persona to the GOP ticket, Loeffler will also be able to tap her personal fortune for the special election, in which candidates from all parties run against each other, with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one wins a majority.

Among the applicants passed over by Kemp was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the House who, had he been appointed, would have become one of the president’s jurors in the looming Senate impeachment trial.

Kemp’s decision to choose Loeffler over Collins has been met with disdain by some of the president’s more vocal supporters, including Fox News host Sean Hannity, a one-time Atlantan who has been urging his followers to contact the governor to voice support for Collins.

Chief among the factors giving Trump supporters pause: In 2012, Loeffler gave $750,000 to a super PAC supporting the presidential candidacy of Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, who has been one of the few voices in the Senate to offer criticism of the president.

Kemp took Loeffler to the White House to meet Trump before he announced her as his pick, a meeting that was reportedly tense and brief.

Collins has said he might run for the Senate in the special election against Loeffler, a race that would pit the president against Kemp, who won the governorship in 2018 after Trump backed him in the GOP primary.

Loeffler is currently the chief executive officer of Bakkt, a bitcoin company that is a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange. She is also co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, which she purchased with a partner in 2010.

Her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the founder and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange. The couple live in Tuxedo Park, one of Atlanta’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

Isakson, 74, who has held the Senate seat since 2005, is retiring at the end of December due to health issues.

So far, only one Democrat has entered the special election race — Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senate seat will also be on the ballot in 2020, with Republican incumbent David Perdue trying to fend off a field of Democratic challengers.

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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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Republican Karen Handel wins hotly contested U.S. House race in suburban Atlanta

Handel turns back challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in most expensive House race ever

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — Republican Karen Handel has won a runoff for Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat, dashing Democratic hopes of embarrassing President Trump by snatching away a seat that has been safely in GOP hands for decades.

U.S. Rep.-Elect Karen Handel, R-Georgia

Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state and Fulton County Commission chair, won 52.1 percent in the June 20 vote, defeating Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide making his first bid for political office, who took 47.9 percent.

She will be the first Republican woman ever to represent Georgia in Congress.

Speaking to supporters at a hotel in Dunwoody, Handel said she was “extraordinarily humbled and honored at the tremendous privilege and high responsibility that you and the people across the 6th District have given to me to represent you.”

She also said Ossoff’s supporters should “know that my commitments, they extend to you.”

“We may have some different beliefs, but we are part of one community,” she said. “My pledge is to be part of the solution to focus on governing, to put my experience to work to help solve the very serious issues we’re facing in this country.”

Handel also thanked Trump, who tweeted on her behalf throughout the race, and Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to Georgia to campaign with her as national Republicans scrambled to avoid what would have been an embarrassing defeat.

Jon Ossoff, D, Georgia 6th District candidate

Ossoff, speaking to his supporters at a hotel in Sandy Springs hotel after the race had been called for Handel, saluted his volunteers, “more than 12,000 of you who, as darkness has crept across this planet, have provided a beacon of hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country and for people around the world.”

“At a time when politics have been dominated by fear and hatred and scapegoating and division, this community stood up … and showed the world that in places where nobody thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight. We showed them what courage and kindness and humility are capable of,” he said.

Handel’s win, along with a win by Republican Ralph Norman in the South Carolina 5th District special election on the same night, means Republicans have successfully defended all four of the House seats that became vacant when their occupants were appointed to positions in the Trump administration. The other elections were in Kansas and Montana.

However, in three of those four races, the Republican winners polled substantially worse than did Trump in November. The only exception was Handel, who ran 4 points ahead of Trump.

Ossoff had come in first in the April primary but fell short of the majority needed to win outright. Handel, who edged out a flock of Republican candidates to make the runoff, was able to consolidate GOP support and win the runoff, despite being outspent by 4-to-1 by Ossoff, who tapped anti-Trump sentiment to raise more than $23 million.

In all, total spending by candidates and outside groups in the 6th District race topped $50 million, making it the most expensive House race in U.S. history. But despite all that spending, Ossoff’s vote share was less than a point higher than what Hillary Clinton pulled down in the district in November.

The 6th District arcs across Atlanta’s northern suburbs, taking in parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties. Since its present configuration was drawn after the 1990 census, the seat has been held by Newt Gingrich, who went on to become speaker of the House; Johnny Isakson, who went on to the U.S. Senate; and Tom Price, who gave it up when Trump picked him to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While Price had won the seat easily in 2016, Trump only carried it by a scant 1.5 percent, on his way to becoming the first Republican to lose Cobb County since 1976. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

For Handel, 55, winning the 6th District seat revives her once-promising political career, which was battered by back-to-back losses to Governor Nathan Deal in a GOP runoff in 2010 and a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

She served as secretary of state from 2007 to 2011 and as chair of the Fulton County Commission from 2003 to 2006.

In her victory speech, Handel thanked House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana for his advice during her campaign, and she asked her supporters to “lift up” Scalise and three others wounded June 14 while practicing for a charity baseball game by a shooter with apparent political motives.

“We need to also lift up this nation so that we can find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements because in these United States of America, no one should ever feel their life threatened over their political beliefs,” she said.

Voters give verdict on expensive slugfest in Georgia’s 6th U.S. House District runoff

Democrat Jon Ossoff hoping to wrest away traditionally GOP seat in suburban Atlanta

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — The most expensive U.S. House race in American history is drawing to a close, with Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff making last-minute pitches in a special election runoff to fill Georgia’s vacant 6th District seat.

Polls in the June 20 runoff open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. EDT, with the results expected to draw outsized national attention.

A victory by Ossoff in a district the GOP has held for decades will be seen as a harbinger of potential doom for House Republicans in 2018. But a win by Handel would make Republicans three-for-three in winning House special elections this year, possibly tempering the speculation about how much President Trump’s historic unpopularity ratings are really eroding the party’s electoral health.

No matter the outcome, the competitiveness of the race wasn’t what Trump had in mind when he appointed Tom Price to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, leaving an open seat that Republicans expected to defend easily.

Jon Ossoff, D, Georgia 6th District candidate

Fueled by liberal anger at Trump’s election, Ossoff — a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide seeking office for the first time — raised a staggering $23.6 million by the end of May, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission. That figure doesn’t include any additional money raised during the first three weeks of June, as his runoff with Handel moved toward its climax.

Handel, a former Fulton County Commission chair and secretary of state, raised just $4.5 million by the end of May, although outside GOP-aligned groups have spent additional money on her behalf.

When all of the candidate and outside spending is tallied, the total is expected to approach $50 million, shattering all previous records for U.S. House races. To put that spending in perspective, a $50 million race would come to roughly $71 each for every man, woman and child in the district — and would be the equivalent of a $700 million statewide race in Georgia.

The 6th District arcs across Atlanta’s northern suburbs, taking in parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties. Since its present configuration was drawn after the 1990 census, the seat has been held by Newt Gingrich, who went on to become speaker of the House; Johnny Isakson, who went on to the U.S. Senate; and Price, now in Trump’s Cabinet.

While Price won the district by 76,000 votes in November, Democrats smelled blood after Trump only managed to carry it by a scant 1.5 percent, on his way to becoming the first Republican to lose Cobb County since 1976. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Ossoff had initially begun his campaign with the slogan “Make Trump Furious.” But after coming in first in the April 19 primary, he eschewed nationalizing the campaign and sought to focus on district-specific issues.

Karen Handel, R. Georgia 6th District candidate

For Handel, 55, the second-place finish in the primary was a welcome political comeback after back-to-back losses to Governor Nathan Deal in a GOP runoff in 2010 and a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014. She served as secretary of state from 2007 to 2011 and as chair of the Fulton County Commission from 2003 to 2006.

Trump has not campaigned in person for Handel, although he did tape an anti-Ossoff robocall before the primary. But Vice President Mike Pence and Price both came down from Washington to make appearances on her behalf.

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