Collins, a four-term Republican from northern Georgia, had lobbied hard for the position when Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) announced his retirement last year. Kemp, however, chose Loeffler, against the advice of Trump, who backed Collins for the job.
Democrats are eyeing Georgia as a top 2020 target in their bid to retake the Senate. Since the race would constitute a special election to finish the final two years of Isakson’s term, it would not include a primary, allowing multiple candidates of both parties to run for the position.
That means, should Democrats unite behind one candidate, they could take advantage of a split in the GOP base. If no candidate receives more than a majority of the vote, the top two candidates would proceed to a runoff in January 2021.
During his television appearance, Collins said he was not concerned about the prospect of a Democrat prevailing.
“We just need to have a process that lets people decide,” he said. “I look forward to an exchange of ideas, and I look forward to the election.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately made clear that it would support Loeffler and suggested that Collins’s entrance into the race will hurt the prospects of other Republicans on the ticket and put Georgia in play in the presidential election.
“All he has done is put two Senate seats, multiple House seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play,” Kevin McLaughlin, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “The NRSC stands firmly behind Sen. Kelly Loeffler and urges anyone who wants to re-elect President Trump, hold the GOP Senate majority, and stop socialism to do the same.”
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Helen Kalla said the “protracted brawl” between Loeffler and Collins would be “a race to the right that reveals just how out of touch both are with Georgia voters.”
Republicans hold a 53-to-47 majority in the Senate but are defending more seats in the November election. Twenty-three GOP seats are on the ballot, including competitive races in Maine, Colorado and Arizona, and two in Georgia.
As the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Collins has played an integral role in defending the president in the impeachment inquiry and on television. He is expected to have the backing of Trump’s most aggressive supporters in the House, which could cause problems for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Both have backed Loeffler.
Loeffler is the chief executive of Bakkt, a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange, and co-owns the Atlanta Dream team of the WNBA. Her wealth allows her to self-fund her campaign.
But she has faced questions about whether she is conservative enough. On Monday, she accused Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) of trying to “appease the left” in favoring witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial.