Financial exec Kelly Loeffler named to fill Isakson’s U.S. Senate seat

Atlanta businesswoman Kelly Loeffler is tapped by Gov. Brian Kemp (left) to replace resigning U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in Congress. Beau Evans/Georgia Recorder

Gov. Brian Kemp Wednesday appointed financial executive Kelly Loeffler to become the second woman in Georgia history to join the U.S. Senate.

Soon after the announcement at the state Capitol, Loeffler staked her positions as staunchly anti-abortion and a strong supporter of President Donald Trump as she prepares to replace U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Isakson is resigning at the end of the year.

An Atlanta businesswoman and political newcomer, Loeffler talked about her upbringing on an Illinois farm and referenced her soft-spoken nature.

“In Congress, I may not be the loudest voice in the room, but you don’t have to be shrill to be tough,” Loeffler said. “And when it comes to fighting for Georgia, I will never back down.”

Kemp tapped Loeffler to serve in place of Isakson until a November 2020 special election to decide who will fill the remainder of the six-year term he won in 2016. He picked her despite pressure from conservatives to choose U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, including repeated urging by President Donald Trump.

Kemp chose Loeffler from among more than 500 hopefuls who submitted resumes in an open online application process. Criticism from some Republican officials and pundits followed as they raised questions about Loeffler’s conservative stance against abortion and support for Trump’s agenda.

“She knows that Washington is fundamentally broken,” Kemp said Wednesday, defending his pick. “She knows we need to drain the swamp.”

Loeffler will campaign in 2020 to keep her appointed seat, she said Wednesday. She will also step down as CEO for the bitcoin trading company Bakkt, the company announced. Bakkt is a subsidiary of the financial services conglomerate Intercontinental Exchange, whose CEO is Jeffrey Sprecher, Loeffler’s husband. Loeffler also co-owns a professional women’s basketball team, the Atlanta Dream.

Kemp chose Loeffler to try to sway suburban women voters who might be reluctant to support the GOP in next year’s busy election season, said Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political science professor who specializes in Southern politics. Kemp leaned on strong turnout from rural areas to win the 2018 gubernatorial election. That strategy might not be enough to keep Republicans in control of the state’s two open U.S. Senate seats next year as Georgia’s rural population declines and Democratic voters flock to the Atlanta suburbs, Hood said.

“Will this pick help with that strategy? Time will tell,” Hood said.

Collins, a Gainesville Republican who is among President Donald Trump’s most vocal allies, has suggested he may run for the job next year if Kemp didn’t appoint him. The governor also faced backlash from some anti-abortion groups who cast her past donations to a handful of Democratic candidates and her role as a Grady Memorial Hospital board member as too pro-abortion for their liking.

Kemp was flanked by dozens of state Republican leaders Wednesday in a show of support at the Capitol. To address Loeffler’s critics, Kemp’s aides circulated a document moments before the governor made his announcement that stressed her opposition to abortion and her support for the controversial anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill he signed in May. A federal court recently blocked the law from taking effect in January.

Loeffler also said she favors federal legislation aimed at banning abortions 20 weeks after conception that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has sponsored several times to no avail since 2013.

“I am strongly pro-life,” Loeffler said, “and angered by these false claims that have no basis.”

Loeffler’s selection also drew support this week from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who called her “a terrific appointment.” McConnell said Tuesday she will have full backing from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Isakson also endorsed his replacement Wednesday and said her business experience should be an asset to Congress. The 74-year-old Isakson will resign at year’s end amid mounting health problems, including Parkinson’s disease.

“The same tireless work ethic that has helped her succeed in business will also help her succeed in serving Georgians and our nation,” Isakson said in a statement.

Meanwhile, state Democratic Party leaders chalked up Loeffler’s appointment as a reward for hefty campaign contributions she made largely to Republican candidates and PACs over the past decade.

“Along with Donald Trump, David Perdue and her fellow Georgia Republicans, Kelly Loeffler represents an endangered species,” Democratic Party of Georgia Chair and state Sen. Nikema Williams said in a statement. “Her time is running out, and we look forward to electing her replacement in November 2020.”

Beau Evans
Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College. Beau was with the Georgia Recorder until January 4th, 2020.