Loeffler, who sits on the board of Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, also detailed her commitment to antiabortion policies, a key point of unease for her conservative critics.
Loeffler, 49, has been a fixture in Georgia’s business community, serving as chief executive of Bakkt, a financial services company, and as co-owner of the Atlanta Dream in the Women’s National Basketball Association, but she has not been politically outspoken.
She will replace Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), who is retiring at the end of the year for health reasons.
At a Wednesday news conference at the Georgia State Capitol, Kemp touted Loeffler as a seasoned executive and political outsider who will fervently back Trump in Congress. Flanked by more than four dozen GOP lawmakers and lobbyists, as well as his wife and children, Kemp said Loeffler will be a senator who supported fellow Republicans in their fight to end the impeachment “circus.”
“Like Senator [David] Perdue, she’s an outsider,” Kemp said. “Like Ivanka Trump, she’s a smart, accomplished and savvy business executive. And like our president, Kelly is ready to take on the status quo, the politically correct and the special interests. . . . She knows that Washington is fundamentally broken.”
Loeffler described herself as a lifelong conservative Republican who is decisively “pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-Trump and pro-wall.”
Highlighting her early life experiences growing up on a Southern Illinois farm, Loeffler emphasized how her traditional values and Christian beliefs will guide her when she arrives on Capitol Hill. And she described herself as an antiabortion politician who would support a ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy and be attuned to issues affecting farmers in rural Georgia.
“No one will work harder for our state, for our nation, for our president, for our conservative values,” Loeffler told reporters. “Here’s the thing: Contrary to what you might see in the media, not every strong American woman is liberal. Many of us are conservative — and proud of it.”
The push by Kemp and Loeffler to reassure Republicans about her selection followed efforts by Trump to install Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), a key Trump ally in the impeachment debate who featured prominently in Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.
But Kemp was not swayed by Trump’s lobbying or pressure from conservatives. Instead, as word of Kemp’s decision circulated the GOP, the governor stood by his decision to select Loeffler, with Republican operatives in the state and nationally describing the choice as an attempt to broaden the party’s appeal with suburban women in 2020, when both of Georgia’s Senate seats will be contested.
Still, Kemp’s reluctance to follow Trump’s suggestion has irritated some of the president’s allies, particularly as Trump faces an impeachment threat. Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs — a confidant of Trump — told his audience on Tuesday that Kemp is “now telling the president of the United States to go to hell.”
Kemp’s decision comes as Republicans in the South are facing challenges, including political turbulence and changing demographics. GOP gubernatorial candidates in Louisiana and Kentucky were defeated this fall, unsettling party leaders throughout the region about the 2020 map.
Little had previously been known about Loeffler’s stances on policy before Wednesday’s announcement. That uncertainty prompted an outcry among some conservatives in recent weeks. They worried that Loeffler could be a “centrist business executive,” as Fox News host Sean Hannity asserted earlier this week.
“Call [Kemp] now!” Hannity, a Trump ally, urged his audience on Twitter. “Why is he appointing Kelly Loeffler?”
Before Wednesday, Kemp responded to those critics by saying that the “idea that I would appoint someone” who is supportive of abortion rights or gun control or not fully supportive of Trump is “ridiculous.”
When asked Wednesday about the criticism from conservatives, particularly on her stance on abortion, Loeffler said she was “angered by false claims that have no basis,” noting that she has donated to antiabortion candidates. Kemp blamed the attacks on people with a “political agenda.”
Loeffler is married to Jeffrey C. Sprecher, the chief executive of Intercontinental Exchange and chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who associates said is eager to keep suburban voters in the GOP fold and does not believe Georgia’s two Senate seats are certain victories — welcomed the appointment.
“Ms. Loeffler has an impressive record in business and community leadership. I am confident she is well prepared to continue Sen. Isakson’s historic legacy of advocating for veterans, strengthening our national defense, and fighting for middle-class families,” McConnell said in a statement.
Loeffler is willing to spend more than $20 million on her 2020 Senate campaign, according to a senior Republican briefed on her plans who was not authorized to speak publicly — a private pledge that has been welcomed by GOP leaders. Loeffler’s spending plans were first reported by Politico.
Democrats are already gearing up for a fall 2020 election contest against her.
Georgia state Sen. Nikema Williams, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, rapped Kemp for selecting one of his donors.
In a statement, Williams said that Loeffler’s embrace of Trump would force her “to run on the GOP’s toxic record of ripping away health care protections from Georgians and giving corporations a trillion dollar tax handout.”
For the moment, Loeffler’s Democratic opponents and potential Republican primary rivals have mostly been rumored, although entrepreneur Matt Lieberman has jumped in the race. Democrats expect to see more entries in the coming weeks as Loeffler is scrutinized and sworn into office.
Perdue, who is also up for reelection in 2020, has so far drawn several challengers, including former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff; former statewide candidate Sarah Riggs Amico; Clarkston, Ga., Mayor Ted Terry, and former Columbus, Ga., mayor Teresa Tomlinson.
Ossoff said in an interview Wednesday that he would stay in the race against Perdue, a former business executive who has been a staunch Trump ally. Ossoff also said that Loeffler’s elevation was a “public humiliation for the president” since Kemp didn’t follow his orders.
“It shows you that Kemp feels liberated,” he said, “and that Georgia Republicans increasingly recognize that Georgia will be one of the most competitive states in the country next year.”
Correction: This story has been updated to include that Matt Lieberman has entered the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate seat in Georgia.
Blau reported from Atlanta. Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed to this report.