ATLANTA, Ga. – U.S. Rep. Doug Collins announced Wednesday that he's running for a U.S. Senate seat held by a fellow Republican, setting up a battle that could divide the Georgia party this election year.
Collins made the announcement on “Fox & Friends,” saying "we’re ready for a good time down here to keep defending this president."
Collins waved off concerns that he and newly sworn-in GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler will tear each other apart and open the door for a Democrat to take the seat. “We're not concerned about that at all,” he said.
Collins was President Donald Trump's pick for the seat, but Gov. Brian Kemp went with Loeffler instead to replace the recently retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Collins, one of Trump's most high-profile House defenders, made the announcement the day after he appeared in the state Capitol, where lawmakers advanced a bill that could give the congressman an edge in the race.
Kemp has threatened to veto any changes in the way Georgia conducts its special Senate election ahead of what will be the debut campaign for Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman and political novice he appointed. Her other allies include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which issued a statement lambasting Collins' “shortsightedness” and “selfishness."
The committee's statement said Collins would endanger the Republicans' ability to carry Georgia for Trump and re-elect Republican U.S. Sen David Perdue, who also will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, in parallel with the special election to fill the last two years of Isakson's term.
“All he has done is put two senate seats, multiple house seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play,” NRSC Executive Director Kevin McLaughlin said in the statement.
Collins, though has friends too, including Georgia's powerful House Speaker David Ralston, who praised Collins Tuesday as a loyal ally.
“He has stood by me when few would, and I don’t forget things like that,” Ralston said of Collins.
Isakson's retirement from the Senate at the end of December set up a political scramble for his seat. Collins openly lobbied for the appointment, with support from Trump. Kemp's choice of Loeffler to serve until a November special election outraged Trump loyalists, who perceived it as defiance of the president.
The decision by the four-term lawmaker could complicate the GOP's chances of holding onto the seat as Republicans battle to retain their Senate majority in this November's elections.
Under current Georgia law, the Nov. 3 special election will be a free-for-all, pitting Loeffler against all challengers, both Republicans and Democrats. If no one wins a majority, a runoff would be held in January.
But a proposal moving through the state House would add party primaries, like those held in normally scheduled elections, to choose a single Republican and Democratic nominee ahead of the November election.
Facing Loeffler head-to-head in a GOP primary could give an advantage to Collins, who frequently appears on Fox News Channel and has wide support among conservatives. Primary contests also appeal to many Georgia Democrats, who see a one-on-one race with Loeffler or Collins as their best chance of winning the Senate seat.
Democrats Ed Tarver, a former federal prosecutor who served as U.S. attorney for Georgia’s Southern District under President Barack Obama, and Matt Lieberman, the son of former senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, are running. The Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church — where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached — is also said to be considering a bid.
Kemp chose Loeffler in part for her ability to appeal to a wider range of voters in a general election, particularly women in metro Atlanta suburbs that were once solidly Republican but have become more competitive. Though still not well known to may Georgia voters, Loeffler has also pledged to spend up to $20 million of her own money on the campaign.
Since her appointment, Loeffler has tried to guard against a challenge from the right by positioning herself as a true Trump conservative, emphasizing strong positions on gun rights and building a wall along the border and criticizing the impeachment process.
On Monday, Loeffler chastised Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, tweeting: “After 2 weeks, it’s clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment. Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on!”