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Marietta Daily Journal: Senate race tightens as Loeffler gains momentum

Senate race tightens as Loeffler gains momentum

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the political newcomer appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp, has gained substantial ground in her race against Congressman Doug Collins for the remaining two years of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. A poll of Georgia voters by Public Opinion Strategies shows Loeffler and Collins neck and neck, while President Trump reportedly will stay on the sidelines, making no endorsement.

In the poll conducted Feb. 17-20, Loeffler moved from 15% in a January survey to 20%, edging past Collins who slipped from 20% in January to 19% — well within the 4.0% margin of error. But among key voter groups, Loeffler made significant headway. She went from 28% to 40% approval by Republicans in the survey, from 20% to 35% among religious conservatives and from 22% to 32% rating by voters who approve of Trump. On key issues, Loeffler far out-polled Collins, with 36% of voters saying she “will stand up for the rights of the unborn,” versus 20% for Collins, and “will cut wasteful spending,” 33% to 19% for Collins.

“As Georgia voters have learned more about Kelly Loeffler, she has quickly erased Doug Collins’ initial advantage,” the poll concluded. “There is no doubt she currently has the momentum in this race. Given Loeffler’s conservative record in Washington, as well as her significant resource advantage, it is very difficult to see how Collins can prevent Loeffler from continuing to grow her vote with both the general electorate and with Republican voters.” Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta businesswoman, has committed millions to her campaign, and her barrage of TV advertising is obviously working for her.

On the endorsement front, Loeffler picked up support from Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House Speaker, who said the senator “is exactly the type of political outsider we need in Washington.” Loeffler had already garnered the backing of top Republicans including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Johnny Isakson himself. For his part, Collins drew support from Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and close ally of Collins, the top Republican serving on the House Judiciary Committee. Collins also got an endorsement from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, popular with conservatives and winner of Georgia’s presidential primary in 2008.

Collins rejected the idea of a dubious consolation prize from Trump — director of national intelligence. Trump had floated the idea of offering the post to Collins, but the congressman said it was “not a job that’s of interest to me at this time.” On the other hand, Trump has publicly praised Loeffler who cast a vote against impeachment in the Senate and has been a staunch supporter of the president. Collins, however, led the House defense against Trump’s impeachment and no doubt expected an endorsement by the president for the Senate seat, backing that could have been a game changer for Georgia conservatives. But according to The Hill newspaper, sources close to the president have “said it’s unlikely Trump will get involved in the primary, despite his close working relationship with Collins.”

Democratic candidates combined had 31% of the vote in the Public Opinion Strategies poll for the Nov. 3 jungle primary open to all candidates regardless of party. Leading the Democrat field with 18% was Matt Lieberman, son of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman. Independent Al Bartell had 5%, and Republican candidate Wayne Johnson of Macon, a former federal education department official in the Trump administration, managed 2%. These two candidates will siphon off about 7% of the conservative vote, which, if it holds, would be a substantial margin of difference in a tight race between Loeffler and Collins. If Democrats coalesce behind a candidate as expected, it could set up a runoff Jan. 5 next year between the Democrat and either Loeffler or Collins. Based on the voting strength of conservatives, one of the Republicans should win, but as always, Georgia elections make for interesting — and often surprising — outcomes.