By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Top Republican candidates in Georgia vying to fill former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term in the U.S. Senate rolled out big-name backers on the campaign trail this week ahead of the Nov. 3 special election.
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat in January following Isakson’s retirement, launched a second statewide tour set to feature Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
She held a campaign rally in Marietta Friday with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., joined her for a private event earlier in the day, campaign staff said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, campaigned in Alpharetta and Gainesville Friday with 6th Congressional District Republican nominee Karen Handel, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell and former Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal.
Former Gov. Nathan Deal attended the rally in Gainesville but did not make a formal endorsement of Collins.
Still, the presence of Deal evoked tension in the Georgia Republican Party sparked by the Senate race with the appearance of a former governor lined up against Kemp, who tapped Loeffler to hold Isakson’s seat until the special election.
The campaigns of Loeffler and Collins have lobbed grenades at each other in recent months through attack ads and social-media messages as each tries to woo Republican voters while several Democratic challengers, including party frontrunner Rev. Raphael Warnock, wait in the wings.
Recently, though, the two Republican campaigns have each stepped up efforts to cast themselves as the race’s staunchest conservative candidate while trumpeting support for President Donald Trump, particularly amid this week’s Republican National Convention.
Trump, a Republican who has a track record of swaying local races with his Twitter profile, has not yet endorsed either Republican candidate in Georgia.
In Marietta on Friday, Loeffler highlighted dozens of bills she has filed in the Senate over the past eight months that align with her strong anti-abortion stance, gun-rights support and opposition to calls to reduce funding for police agencies amid nationwide protests.
Loeffler has also pushed to portray herself as an outsider candidate akin to Trump, noting her background as a businesswoman and framing the four-term Congressman Collins as entrenched in establishment politics. She had loaned her campaign $15 million from her own money as of mid-July.
“I don’t owe anyone anything except you,” Loeffler said Friday. “I can’t be bought.”
With both candidates angling for the title of most conservative, Collins has touted endorsements from several dozen Georgia sheriffs and accused Loeffler of adopting conservative views only after she was appointed to the Senate. He has also criticized her use of wealth in the campaign.
In Gainesville Friday night, Collins stressed his vocal defense of Trump during impeachment hearings last December during which he hounded congressional Democratic leaders in his role as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
“I’m going to give you three people you can call and ask if I’m a conservative,” Collins said. “It’s Jerry Nadler, Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi.”
As the Republican candidates continue in-person campaigning, Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church who has drawn broad support from state and national Democratic leaders, has kept to virtual town halls and talks alongside county Democratic groups amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Warnock has homed in recently on Georgia’s health-care system during the pandemic and virus-prompted economic fallout, especially with two rural hospitals set to close in Jackson and Randolph counties in the coming months.
In a new ad released Wednesday, Warnock highlighted his experience counseling people who have lost loved ones and jobs due to coronavirus, emphasizing the need for expanded health-care access and financial assistance while criticizing the state and federal responses to the pandemic.
“All too often these are people whom government has forgotten or for whom it was never there in the first place,” Warnock said. “I’ll always work for you.”
Nearly two dozen candidates including Loeffler have qualified for the Nov. 3 special election to complete the remaining two years of the Senate term formerly held by Isakson. Candidates from all parties will be on the same ballot, and a runoff will be held in January if no candidate wins more than 50% of votes in November.