ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to name an interim successor to retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson this week as conservative Republicans pile on to his rumored choice of businesswoman Kelly Loeffler.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., blasted the potential appointment of Loeffler as a blow to President Donald Trump, who openly favors U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, for the post, and an act of disloyalty by a Republican governor toward a president who helped win election last year with a well-timed primary endorsement.
Conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin also weighed in, calling Kemp another Mitt Romney – who has been a frequent critic of the president – and denigrating Loeffler as a RINO (Republican in Name Only), too moderate to appeal to Georgia’s GOP base.
Isakson announced in September he would retire at the end of this year, citing health problems. That gives Kemp a rare opportunity to appoint an interim U.S. senator who will serve next year and, if he or she wants the job beyond that, seek election next November for the remainder of Isakson’s six-year term.
Kemp threw the impending vacancy open to all comers when he asked for resumes to be submitted to the governor’s website. More than 500 applied by the Nov. 18 deadline Kemp set.
Loeffler, co-owner of women’s professional basketball team the Atlanta Dream and wife of Intercontinental Exchange Inc. owner Jeff Sprecher, has drawn criticism from conservative Republicans for contributing $750,000 to Romney’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2012 and because of the Dream’s support for Planned Parenthood.
In a threatening Twitter post, Gaetz accused Kemp of ignoring Trump’s support for Collins, a staunch defender of the president as the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, because the governor thinks he knows more than Trump.
“If you substitute your judgment for the president’s, maybe you need a primary in 2022,” Gaetz wrote. “Let’s see if you can win one [without] Trump.”
Both Kemp and a member of his staff responded to Gaetz’ criticism on Twitter.
“The attacks and games are absolutely absurd,” the governor wrote. “Frankly, I could care less what the political establishment thinks.”
Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce essentially told Gaetz to butt out of Georgia’s business.
“Gov. Kemp runs the Peach State,” Broce posted. “This appointment is his alone. You should focus on Florida.”
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, suggested Kemp has more to gain by appointing Loeffler than picking Trump’s choice.
“If he goes with Collins, it looks like he’s deferring to the president. For hard-core Republicans, that’s probably a good thing,” Bullock said. “But with the [Georgia] electorate becoming increasingly diverse and with the increasing role white suburban women are playing, appointing [Loeffler] may bring new Republican voters to the table. It may be rewarding for him.”
Bullock said the Senate selection will be old news by 2022, when Kemp will seek re-election. On the other hand, Loeffler would have to run again that year for a full six-year term, linking the two at the top of the ballot, Bullock said.