Busy start to election qualifying week as Loeffler, Collins launch Senate bids

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler joined Gov. Brian Kemp at the Capitol early this month after qualifying as a candidate to keep her senate seat. Kemp appointed Loeffler after the resignation of Sen. Johnny Isakson. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Monday marked the official kickoff for a slew of contests that voters will see coming to a ballot near them this year, including an intraparty match that pits the governor’s handpicked candidate for the U.S. Senate against one of President Donald Trump’s top defenders.

U.S. Congressman Doug Collins quickly made real on his vow to challenge U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to replace now-retired Sen. Johnny Isakson.

“Today begins a new day. I say, ‘Bring it on,’” Collins said after officially qualifying for the U.S. Senate race. “You can spend your millions, but we’re going to have debates.

U.S. Congressman Doug Collins speaks with the media after qualifying to challenge U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler on the first day of qualifying Monday. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

“In fact, let’s have a lot of debates,” he added. “Let’s have it all over the state, because ideas matter, and I have no problem with my ideas and what I’ve done for the state of Georgia.”

Collins, who was passed over by Kemp for the job last year, and Loeffler won’t face a head-to-head primary. Since it’s a special election, the pair of Republicans will compete in a so-called jungle primary in November alongside Democrats.

The race, which is expected to require a runoff, has already shaped up to become one of the more contentious of this election cycle.

Collins spoke to reporters just minutes before Loeffler appeared beside Kemp – who had earlier also stood next to U.S. Sen. David Perdue – for a brief press conference.

Loeffler defended her commitment to pour millions of her own money into her election bid, which Collins criticized as a Mike Bloomberg-style campaign.

“I’m investing in this race because I believe that you cannot put a price on freedom,” Loeffler told reporters Monday.

Qualifying started Monday with a flurry of activity. Candidates lined up at the state Capitol to wait their turn to submit their paperwork and write a check. Among them was U.S Congressman John Lewis, who qualified for another term after recently announcing he has pancreatic cancer.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue also qualified Monday. So did two of his Democratic opponents, including former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

GOP U.S. Sen. David Perdue qualified to run to retain his seat and at a Capitol press conference he said this year is pivotal in Georgia for the president and other Republicans. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

“We’re just starting,” Perdue said at a press conference Monday. “We’ve got to get President Trump re-elected, and right now, the re-election of Gov. Brian Kemp actually starts today as well. If we don’t do our job this year, we’re going have an even harder job in 2022.”

Loeffler and Collins were asked if they were concerned that Collins’ presence would create a split among the GOP that could hand the seat to Democrats. Ads are already appearing that depict Loeffler as an out-of-touch millionaire and Collins as a Washington insider who has cozied up to Democrats.

They each publicly shrugged off the existence of any such dilemma Monday.

“I’m working on uniting Republicans so that we win. This state should not be at risk. I will not let it be at risk,” Loeffler said.

For his part, Collins noted that Democrats are not exactly in lockstep either. At least three prominent Democrats have announced that they plan to challenge Loeffler: Matt Lieberman, the son of former Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman; former U.S. Attorney and state Sen. Ed Tarver; and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

“Georgians understand elections,” Collins said. “Georgians understand that we can come together.”

Candidates will continue to file in over the coming days to claim a spot on a ballot. Qualifying for the May 19 primary wraps up Friday.