Loeffler campaign hires former Kemp field director

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks at the State Capitol after qualifying for the 2020 election on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign has brought on a former field director for Gov. Brian Kemp to run her on-the-ground voter outreach operations ahead of the Nov. 3 special election.

Chris Allen, who ran then-gubernatorial candidate Kemp’s outreach in 2018, has been tapped as Loeffler’s state field director in charge of voter mobilization efforts, her campaign announced Monday.

Allen also managed state Rep. Kevin Tanner’s campaign for the 9th Congressional District seat that he lost in the Republican primary in June.

Loeffler, R-Ga., is looking to fend off challengers from all sides as she campaigns to keep her Senate seat, to which she was appointed by Kemp in December to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

The race has drawn 20 candidates seeking to unseat Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman and wife of Jeff Sprecher, CEO of Intercontinental Exchange Inc., which owns the New York Stock Exchange.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, whom Kemp passed over for the Senate appointment in favor of Loeffler, is aiming to shore up conservative grassroots support ahead of the election. His campaign has polled neck-and-neck with Loeffler’s in recent polls.

On the Democratic side, Rev. Raphael Warnock is pushing to distinguish himself on issues from his Republican counterparts as he collects a stream of endorsements from prominent Democratic groups and leaders.

Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, is facing fellow Democrat Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who polled higher than Warnock in a Monmouth University poll released last week.

The Nov. 3 special election is a free-for-all contest involving candidates from all parties on the same ballot. A runoff will be held in January if no candidate gains more than 50% of votes.

Senate race in Georgia gaining steam past the 100-day point

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (left), U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (center) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (right) are competing in the Nov. 3 special election.

Battle lines are being drawn in the race to fill the remaining two years of retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s Senate term with less than 100 days left until Election Day in November.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who was appointed to hold the seat in December, has squared off with Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., over criminal justice issues and their personal backgrounds.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock has homed in on health care and voting rights issues, both figuring as major policy areas for Democrats across the country.

Above all looms the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted tough debate on how to keep Georgians safe without wrecking the economy.

Nearly two dozen candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for the Senate special election on Nov. 3, a free-for-all contest in which candidates from all parties will be on the same ballot.

On the Republican side, candidates Loeffler and Collins are hustling to scoop up marquee endorsements from conservative groups and political leaders as they jab each other with campaign attacks.

Each has drawn support from local law enforcement officials, conservative groups and prominent state and national Republican leaders following Loeffler’s appointment by Gov. Brian Kemp in December to hold the Senate seat and Collins’ decision to jump into the race in January.

Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman running her first political campaign, has cast herself as an outsider candidate compared to the four-term Congressman Collins – though both have grounded their campaigns in supporting gun ownership, opposing abortion and backing President Donald Trump.

“With significant advantages in resources, infrastructure and grassroots support, our campaign is continuing to build momentum toward a big win,” said Loeffler’s communications director, Stephen Lawson.

Collins, a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain who served in the Georgia House before joining Congress, has embraced his legislative experience while lobbing criticism at Loeffler’s use of her wealth in the campaign and fending off attacks on his record as a former criminal defense attorney.

“I’ve stood for the Constitution as a military officer,” Collins said Thursday. “I’ve stood for the Constitution as an attorney representing the values of this community and representing the values of this state.”

Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, quickly drew endorsements from a slate of top Democratic state and national lawmakers and party favorites like former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

He has sought to emphasize popular Democratic stances on expanding health-care coverage and voting-rights protections in recent weeks as COVID-19 continues battering Georgia and months of protests over police brutality and racial injustice carry on.

“It’s not about the personalities who are running,” Warnock said recently. “We’re seeing a moment unlike anything we’ve ever seen in our lifetime that whoever you decide to vote for can literally decide who lives and who dies.”

As the race steams ahead, differences have emerged between the candidates on how to best tackle the health and economic burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the most pressing issues amid the pandemic is what to do about the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit millions of out-of-work Americans have received since March, which is set to expire this weekend.

Loeffler and Collins have echoed congressional Republican leaders who oppose keeping the $600 benefit as is, arguing many businesses have struggled to bring employees back to work amid unemployment benefits that may be higher than their regular paychecks.

And both candidates have said they would prioritize sending more federal aid to schools, hospitals and businesses struggling to rebound and purchase protective equipment.

But while Loeffler has not said whether she would support a reduced weekly benefit, Collins has been unequivocal.

“If the unemployment insurance is something that is still there, make it as small as possible and make it end as quickly as possible,” Collins said at a recent campaign stop.

For her part, Loeffler has said she wants to weigh proposals on benefit amounts before taking a position and emphasized the need to bolster state unemployment trust funds.

“That’s the first thing, how do we help states make sure that they can meet the need at that level,” Loeffler said on Monday. “And then I think we’d have to look at what that additional federal level of funding would be needed.”

Warnock has urged extending the $600 benefit going forward and called for helping prop up unemployed workers via expanded health-care coverage, particularly for Medicaid in Georgia.

He has also tied the issue to bids by Republican lawmakers to trim federal spending and shrink taxes, framing those moves as “an effort to renegotiate the social contract to starve the government to death” that he argues has hamstrung the long-term pandemic response.

“This idea that you wouldn’t have resources, a social safety network, to respond in a crisis like this is the logical outcome of that kind of move,” Warnock said recently. “And so I will absolutely stand up as United States senator and argue that working people, middle-class people, deserve their fair shake.”

The race looks to intensify in the coming weeks as the candidates begin pouring campaign funds into television ads and social-media spots.

Loeffler will have the largest bank by far to pay for ads and other marketing, having already loaned her campaign $15 million from her own personal money. Warnock raised around $4.4 million through June, while Collins reeled in roughly $3.8 million.

In mid-July, Loeffler unloaded a campaign ad criticizing Collins’ stint as a defense attorney in Gainesville, noting his firm took on several clients facing gang, drug trafficking and assault charges.

Collins dismissed the ad, stressing his firm was appointed by the courts to defend the indigent clients shown in the ad.

A week later, Collins released his own ad highlighting controversial stock transactions Loeffler made following a closed-door briefing on the coronavirus in January.

Loeffler has said those trades were done by a third-party advisor without her input and noted the U.S. Justice Department did not produce evidence of insider trading before closing an investigation into her transactions.

And Warnock, who has held off so far on in-person campaigning due to the virus, has leaned on social media to air his views on voting rights and health care.

In recent videos, Warnock has pressed both Loeffler and Collins to state their positions on restoring certain election oversight rules to the Voting Rights Act taken away by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2013 ruling, and on proposals to repeal a key coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act.

The weeks ahead may also settle whether any of the 17 other candidates in the race drop out to help boost chances for Loeffler, Collins or Warnock to nab more than 50% of votes in the Nov. 3 election.

Among prominent Democratic candidates still in the race are Ed Tarver, a former U.S. attorney and state senator from Augusta, and Matt Lieberman, son of former U.S. senator and 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman turned heads by polling higher than Warnock by 5 percentage points in a poll released Wednesday by Monmouth University.

If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in November, a runoff will be held in January between the top two vote-getters.

Collins touts sheriff support in U.S. Senate race

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., speaks after the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association’s summer conference on Lake Lanier on July 30, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins touted support Thursday from 41 Georgia sheriffs in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler as the two Republicans seek to stake a claim as the staunchest supporter of law enforcement.

Collins’ backing by sheriffs comes as he aims to fend off recent attacks on his record as a former defense attorney, which the four-term congressman has dismissed as baseless.

Collins spoke at the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association’s summer conference on Lake Lanier Thursday, drawing praise from several sheriffs and former state Department of Public Safety Commissioner Col. Mark McDonough.

“It’s more than simply just saying, ‘I support law enforcement,’” Collins said. “For me, it’s actually doing something about it.”

Historically, sheriffs’ endorsements have been coveted by Georgia candidates, particularly in more conservative parts of the state where police support often runs deep.

Loeffler, R-Ga., who made a video appearance at the conference earlier this week, has drawn endorsements from around a dozen local sheriffs and district attorneys as she seeks to cast herself as more of a law-and-order candidate than Collins.

She has also made supporting police a central plank in her platform over the past month, highlighting legislation she brought recently to withhold federal funds from communities that reduce police funding and broaden penalties for convicted gang members.

“We have to make sure that our brave men and women in blue know that we have their back,” Loeffler said at a recent campaign stop. “That we will never stop supporting them because they keep all of us safe.”

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a campaign event at Cobb County’s Republican headquarters in Marietta on July 13, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Policing and criminal justice issues have taken center stage on the Republican side of the race to fill the remaining years in the term of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who retired late last year. Loeffler was appointed to hold the seat until the special election in November.

Collins and Loeffler have both gravitated toward opposition to calls for reducing funds for local law enforcement agencies and criticism of recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice, particularly those done under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But Loeffler homed in on her Republican opponent earlier this month with a campaign ad pointing out Collins’ stint as a defense attorney in Gainesville, noting his firm took on several clients facing gang, drug trafficking and assault charges.

Following that ad, Loeffler’s campaign released a statement signed by nine Georgia sheriffs who accused Collins of having “made a career out of putting the interests of criminals before the safety of Georgia’s families.”

On Thursday, Collins called aspects of the ad “despicable”, stressing the clients noted in the ad that his firm represented were all court-appointed and indigent.

“Senator Loeffler seems to like the Constitution except that part about the right to counsel,” Collins said.

“What it tells me is Senator Loeffler would rather scare people than actually deal with the issues of law enforcement and the law enforcement community,” he added.

The back-and-forth over law enforcement support also comes amid a new poll released earlier this week by Monmouth University, which shows Loeffler leading Collings by 6 points.

Loeffler has hailed the poll as an indication of sturdy support among conservative voters at this stage in the campaign.

“This most recent polling shows that Senator Loeffler has all the momentum on her side – and that support for her strong conservative message only continues to grow,” said Loeffler’s communications director, Stephen Lawson.

Collins downplayed those projections Thursday, noting results from other polls that give him an edge and describing polls in general as “a snapshot in time” that are not set in stone.

“I hope she believes it because nobody else does,” Collins said.

The special election for Loeffler’s seat, which is an open contest involving candidates from all parties on the same ballot, is slated for Nov. 3. A runoff would be held in January if no one candidate gains more than 50% of votes, a strong likelihood with 21 candidates on the November ballot.

Special election set for Congressional seat held by John Lewis

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a prominent civil rights leader, served 33 years in Congress before his death on July 17, 2020. (Official U.S. House photo)

Gov. Brian Kemp Monday called a special election for Sept. 29 to fill the remainder of U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ term following the civil rights icon’s death earlier this month.

Required by state law, the special election will only apply through the end of this year. The general election on Nov. 3 will decide who serves the next full term representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, a seat Lewis held for decades.

A runoff for the special election would be held on Dec. 1, if needed.

Georgia Democratic Party leaders last week picked state Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, to replace Lewis on the Nov. 3 ballot after the longtime congressman won the primary in June. She faces Republican Angela Stanton King.

Lewis, a prominent civil rights leader who was beaten by police in Selma, Ala., during a protest march in 1965, served 33 years in Congress before his death at age 80 following a seven-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

He was poised to defend his seat for an 18th consecutive term prior to his death on July 17, which sparked a complicated and quick-moving process for state Democrats to pick his replacement to square off against King rather than let Republicans claim the reliably blue district.

Kemp, a Republican, announced the Sept. 29 special election as Lewis’ casket lay in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Monday. His casket is scheduled to lie in state at the Georgia Capitol on Wednesday, followed by a funeral service in Atlanta on Thursday.

Williams, who currently chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia, has touted her background as an activist and tested lawmaker, casting herself in the mold of Lewis as a fighter who will push for voting rights. She was elected to the Georgia Senate in 2017.

The 39th District state Senate seat Williams held will also require a special election to pick a Democratic nominee to replace her on the Nov. 3 ballot. That contest will decide the seat since no Republican nominee is on the ballot.

Loeffler pitches federal anti-gang bill, database creation

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks at the State Capitol after qualifying for the 2020 election on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., is pushing legislation to create a federal database of criminal street gang members and broaden what actions would be considered a gang-related federal crime.

The bill, called the “Cracking Down on Gangs and Deporting Criminals Act of 2020,” would add 10 years to a convicted gang member’s sentence for certain acts including recruitment, witness intimidating and threatening members who want to leave a gang.

The bill also would create a gang database logging information on gang members from federal, state and local police agencies and refer undocumented persons with gang convictions to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for deportation.

Loeffler sponsored the bill with Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

“We must not only work to prevent the formation of gangs, but also to track their members and hold them accountable for their vile actions so we can end the violence and keep the American people safe,” Loeffler said.

Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman running in a heated race to hold her Senate seat, introduced the gang legislation earlier this week as she seeks to craft an image as a law-and-order candidate in contrast to her Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins.

Recently, she has slammed Collins’ record as a former defense attorney, releasing campaign ads and social media posts highlighting certain clients Collins’ former law firm assisted in court. Collins’ campaign has called her a wealthy appointee out-of-touch with voters, routinely mocking her use of a private jet.

The bill drew praise from top Georgia officials including Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s director, Vic Reynolds. Kemp, who appointed Loeffler, has made cracking down on gangs a pillar of his first term as governor.

“Her bill will strengthen penalties against convicted gang members, aid in the deportation of illegal aliens engaged in criminal gang activity and support law enforcement in their efforts to track and defeat criminal organizations,” Kemp said.

But gang databases in states like New York, California and Georgia have drawn criticism from advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which warn the databases could be unconstitutional or increase racial profiling.

Kosha Tucker, an ACLU of Georgia staff attorney, said earlier this year Georgia’s gang database could pose due-process issues if someone is denied bail who was never told they were placed on the database. Not knowing who is on the database could also become a terrorizing influence in communities, Tucker said.

“Communities of color shouldn’t have to live in fear that at any given moment a police officer could be walking in their neighborhood, walking down their street, and assume that this community’s child or family member is gang-affiliated,” Tucker said in a February interview.

Loeffler was appointed to fill retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat until the free-for-all special election set for Nov. 3. Nearly two dozen candidates are vying to beat Loeffler including Collins and Democratic front-runner Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Warnock highlights voting rights in U.S. Senate campaign

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (left), U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (center) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (right) are competing in the Nov. 3 special election.

Rev. Raphael Warnock joined a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers and civil rights leaders Tuesday in pushing to restore a key aspect of the federal Voting Rights Act in the wake of Congressman John Lewis’ death.

Warnock, the Democratic front-runner in the race for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s seat, challenged Republican opponents Loeffler, R-Ga., and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins to back restoring certain rules for federal oversight of elections that the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated in the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

“Those who will offer pious platitudes in honor of John Lewis over the next coming days need to get busy in Congress renewing the Voting Rights Act,” Warnock said.

Warnock, senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has fixed voting rights as a central theme of his campaign in the free-for-all race to unseat Loeffler, echoing many other Democratic leaders who have elevated the issue in recent years, particularly in Georgia.

The call for Voting Rights Act renewal also seeks to distinguish Warnock from Loeffler’s recent moves to position herself as a staunch pro-law enforcement candidate and to emphasize more social and cultural subjects like her opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman gwho was appointed to the Senate seat late last year following former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s retirement, praised Lewis’s “grit, tenacity [and] courage” in a statement last Friday shortly after his death.

“As a leader in the civil rights movement, he always pushed America to live up to its promise of freedom and equality,” Loeffler said.

Lewis, who died at age 80 following a seven-month battle against pancreatic cancer, was a leading voice in calls to fully renew the Voting Rights Act with the federal oversight provision intact, arguing its absence could promote voter suppression.

The Supreme Court in 2013 overturned a provision in the law that required some states to receive federal approval before making changes to election procedures. Those provisions were central to the Voting Rights Act but were deemed outdated and not backed by data in the court’s majority opinion.

Senate Republican lawmakers including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have opposed restoring the oversight provision on grounds it could interfere with state elections authority and have dismissed claims of voter suppression by Democrats.

Collins, R-Gainesville, a preacher and former defense attorney who recently served as Republican ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, said last year the federal oversight provision was outdated but stressed the Voting Rights Act still contains rules that prohibit and punish discrimination in elections.

“Voting rights are protected in this country, including in my own state of Georgia, where Latino and African-American voter turnout has soared,” Collins said following an Oct. 17, 2019, Judiciary Committee hearing.

Collins has lobbed criticism at Loeffler over use of her wealth in the campaign and co-ownership of a Women’s National Basketball Association team, noting the league’s Planned Parenthood backing. He also has noted the Democratic Party’s support for racial discrimination in laws enacted during the slavery and Jim Crow eras of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The race to fill the remaining two years of Isakson’s term has drawn a field of 21 contenders in the Nov. 3 special election, in which candidates from all parties will be on the same ballot. A runoff between the top two finishers will be held in January if no candidate gains a simple majority.