Let me first say I have no insider knowledge and have specifically refrained from speaking to either the Governor or his staff on this matter. This is speculation on my part, but I’ve been around enough to make some educated guesses on this.
Georgia has a Senate seat open. Senator Isakson will leave no later than December 31, 2019. Governor Kemp gets to fill the seat and has gone through a transparent application process. If you want the appointment, you must apply.
Over 500 people applied including Congressman Doug Collins. On the last day, businesswoman Kelly Loeffler applied. She co-owns a WNBA team in Atlanta and worked as head of investor relations for the company that bought the New York Stock Exchange a while back.
After her application, which came in the last hours before Governor closed the door to accepting new ones, President Trump and his allies began a pressure campaign on Governor Kemp for Congressman Doug Collins to get the seat. Likewise, Collins suggested he might run for the Senate seat if Kemp did not pick him.
Well, challenge accepted.
Governor Kemp got dragged in the 2018 campaign for being just a toady of President Trump’s who would not have won without Trump’s support. Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida tweeted as much the other night.
This is a rewriting of the 2018 history. Kemp won the early vote in Georgia and Trump’s endorsement did not come until the last day of early voting. Likewise, polling had Kemp gaining on Cagle headed into election day. Trump ensured Kemp’s margin of victory was overwhelming, but he’d have won anyway.
But the attack stuck. Kemp is Trump’s boy.
Over the past year, Kemp has worked to be his own man. He has a strong record. He has growing approval. An AJC poll from last week that had a flawed sample skewed to the Democrats found Kemp had 54% approval and had majority support of women and men. Correct the sample and Kemp’s approval from both groups is substantially higher. His approval exists despite repeated efforts from Democrats to delegitimize him due to the 2018 election and the fetal heartbeat legislation. In fact, I know of private polling that has Kemp closer to 60% approval.
For Kemp to now appoint Doug Collins would be cast as him doing Trump’s bidding after working for a year to be his own man. It would make it look like Kemp could be bullied, is not his own man, and it would set a dangerous precedent for others wanting the Governor’s favor.
On top of all of this, President Trump’s Georgia supporters are going to give Kemp wide latitude on the pick because he beat Stacey Abrams and stood up to progressives by signing the fetal heartbeat legislation. He has street cred with these voters and the President trying to pressure him on this gives him a lot of credibility with voters who don’t trust him.
Kemp now not only cannot pick Collins, but he must also pick someone Collins would have difficulty running against. The no brainer pick there would be Kelly Loeffler. She can self-fund. She is a six figure donor to President Trump. She agrees with the President. But she is a self-made woman who arguably brings new voters to the table for Kemp. Her donations to get President Trump elected would neutralize the President. Her potential to draw voters to the GOP in the suburbs helps the President.
It would also play badly for Collins to challenge her when the Democrats are going to organize a well funded effort to take back that seat. Any upset in that race would be blamed on Collins and the NRSC and others would rally to the incumbent female Republican.
The President and the Collins camp should not have been public. Collins was undoubtedly on a very short list of three or four people. I cannot imagine he’d make the cut now, given how it would be framed against Brian Kemp.