Georgia’s first “career Republican” governor has already had a banner year with big wins in economic development and a plethora of appointments that truly do represent the diversity of 2020 Georgia. With his appointment of businesswoman and 4H’er Kelly Loeffler, however, he clearly stated what he wants Georgians to know about the heart and soul of our 83rd governor.
Gov. Brian Kemp has kept his own counsel in a monumental historic appointment of Georgia’s first modern day woman executive as our next U.S. senator. He has shown his independence and his confidence in his ability to not only appoint Kelly Loeffler but help her win the special November 3 2020 election.
Loeffler is not a lifelong Georgian but she is far from being a first there. Her rural Illinois roots will soon be known to all Georgians where it matters most — in Kemp’s base. Kemp has made the critical calculation that just winning is not everything. There were many applicants who could win. This is a senator who can be as effective on the campaign trail as she can be in the halls of the U.S. Senate. She has already received the full endorsement of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and will be treated as an incumbent. McConnell is well known for disciplining the ranks of the consulting world and woe be unto anyone who thinks they have a “free pass” to work against Loeffler.
With a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice in and out of the hospital (Ruth Ginsberg) and others who have their own challenges, Loeffler has ready-made political capital. As that capital grows, Kemp’s team is making the astute calculation that it will ultimately benefit him as well in 2022.
While it is an unconventional pick, it is by no means random. If the GOP grassroots is listening, they will hear this message: we are not giving up on the suburbs and we are ready to put the varsity up against the Stacey Abrams team in 2020 and 2022
The Democrats now have a conundrum. Do they follow the Abrams strategy of 2018 to oppose Loeffler or do they try and tack back to the middle in the wake of a presidential nominating process that is decidedly leaning way left? Their leading candidate against Sen. David Perdue, Loeffler’s running mate for 2020, is an articulate former mayor of Columbus, Teresa Tomlinson. For the Abrams strategy to be put in play, they need a strong African-American running mate for Tomlinson. (Sadly, former gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter need not apply.) Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond is the most well-positioned of the “wannabes” but there are others who will jockey. With an open primary, we can expect more than one Democrat with a base to offer their own application– and with Loeffler untested as a candidate we can expect a runoff in the “jungle special election” required by Isakson’s early departure.
For state House and Senate Republicans who have been looking for a “lifeline,” the Loeffler appointment is just that. As grassroots and leading Georgians get to know Loeffler, they will simultaneously come to the same conclusion: she is smart and a leader. The GOP is woefully lacking 40-something leaders.
The bonus is that Loeffler is a proven entrepreneur who embraces jobs creating tax policy. Once the president gets over his disappointment that his mouthpiece, Rep. Doug Collins, is not a juror for impeachment trials, he will come to see that Loeffler is what Ivanka aspires to be: an independent businesswoman of real substance but with a low-key style. There is no way that this is not a boon to GOP prospects of holding on to marginal House and Senate seats as well as the battleground races for Congress in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District (Karen Handel vs. Lucy McBath) and the 7th (where incumbent Rob Woodall is retiring).
Give Loeffler time and Georgians will see her as a logical, forward looking and totally appropriate successor the legendary Johnny Isakson.
So despite some handwringers on the far right who seized on an opportunity to scare their donor base and misrepresent the practices of two of Georgia’s best known healthcare innovators (Emory and Grady Health), the Loeffler appointment is good for the GOP and good for Georgia in the short and long term. While Kelly Loeffler won the battle for this prized appointment, it may be the governor who proves that 63 percent of Georgians know two winners when they see them.
Jay Morgan is a former executive director of the Georgia GOP, a former Johnny Isakson campaign manager and the principal in his Atlanta public affairs firm.