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Column: Brian Kemp has hundreds of Senate applicants but just 2 choices
08292018 TOM BAXTER
Tom Baxter

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz has shown a lot of interest lately in politicking across state lines. Earlier this year the Fort Walton Beach Republican toyed briefly with the idea of hopping over the state line and running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama.

Last week, Gaetz took to Twitter, along with Donald Trump Jr. and others, to advise Gov. Brian Kemp on who he should pick to fill U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat. President Trump has also urged Kemp directly to appoint Collins, according to press reports.

“It’s beyond dispute that u won the primary due to @realDonaldTrump,” the congressman instructed the governor. “Do what you *know directly* is the right thing & appoint @RepDougCollins to the Senate.

“Doug can be a needed champ for POTUS in the Senate Day 1,” he twittered on. “No time for on the job impeachment training.”

About the only thing in all of that which really is beyond dispute is that Rep. Doug Collins would be a “champ for POTUS” from the jump in the Senate, just as he has been in the U.S. House.

As for the 2018 primary in which Kemp crushed former Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, that was a victory so long and deep that you could see it coming well before Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and former White House aide Nick Ayers convinced Trump to endorse Kemp. Trump’s endorsement added to the lopsided margin, but if the 2018 primary result was “due to” anybody, it was Kemp himself. He ran a smart primary campaign and his opponent ran a disastrously bad one.

It’s also questionable how much “on the job impeachment training” would be required of the Senate appointee. Presumably, if no one had put any pressure on him, Kemp would not have appointed anyone who would be even close to a guilty vote against Trump in an impeachment trial. He isn’t likely to do so now either, but the pressure has put Kemp, and the Georgia Republican Party, in an awkward position.

It could be argued that as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, which will take over the second phase of the impeachment inquiry, and thus the Republican who will play the most crucial role in hammering out the articles of impeachment to be sent to the Senate, Collins should be focused on the job directly ahead of him in the next few weeks. But the Gainesville Republican has already let it be known that even if he isn’t selected by Kemp he might run for the seat next year, setting up a potentially bruising primary battle.

Much more attention has been paid to the roughly 330,000 inactive voters recently slated for removal by the secretary of state than the 352,000 new voters who have been registered since the last election. 

That has to have been going through Kemp’s mind while he’s been mulling over a Senate choice that must appeal to a growing electorate both next year and in 2022. He invited those interested in the appointment to submit their resumes, thus opening the process to all comers.

One of the last to apply for the job was bitcoin millionaire and Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler. This also drew pressure from out of state. The rightwing website Breitbart followed quickly with a story claiming on questionable grounds that Loeffler, a big-bucks Republican contributor, has ties to Planned Parenthood and Stacey Abrams. 

This leaves Kemp with 600-odd applicants and basically two choices. He could bow to the pressure and appoint an elected Washington politician from the home county of the Republican establishment he upended in 2018, which paradoxically would please Trump. Or, with all those new voters in mind, he could move out of the box with Loeffler, or even more out of the box with one of the other applicants.

He has no guarantees whatever he decides. As Louisiana demonstrates on a regular basis, jungle primaries like the one Kemp’s appointee will run in next year can be tricky. If Kemp appoints someone other than Collins, he’ll probably get in the primary anyway. But who’s to say that if Collins gets the job, Loeffler, a self-funder, wouldn’t also make a primary bid? With a Democrat, or Democrats, also in the mix, you can imagine a lot of runoff combinations, and some very unexpected outcomes.

Tom Baxter is a veteran Georgia journalist who writes for The Saporta Report.

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