WASHINGTON — Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s opponents are reveling in the recent headlines.
The Republican senator confirmed last week that she had sent documents about her recent stock trades to federal investigators. Polls suggest she’s lagging well behind her top GOP opponent in her bid to hold onto her U.S. Senate seat. A former Georgia Republican congressman was quoted warning that she could be a drag on other GOP candidates in the state.
A survey released this week also showed dire favorability ratings for Georgia’s junior senator. The survey, conducted by Civiqs for the left-leaning publication DailyKos, showed that 59% of respondents had an unfavorable view of Loeffler, who has been on the job a little over four months. Another 21% of respondents viewed her favorably; 20% said they were unsure.
“If you’re a fairly new senator trying to make an impression on voters and get your name out there, if your disapproval rating is 59%, your career is basically over before it starts,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Loeffler, who was appointed by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the seat when Sen. Johnny Isakson retired, has the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). She’s also got some powerful Georgians in her camp. She’s been endorsed by former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Attorney General Chris Carr.
“For her, it’s like all she really needed to do is vote the party line, keep a low profile,” said Coleman of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “If she did that, she’d be in pretty decent shape, even against” Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, her leading GOP competitor.
But the controversy over her stock sales brought her a deluge of negative attention. She sold off as much as $3.1 million in stocks after participating in a private briefing for senators on the COVID-19 outbreak, just before stock values plummeted.
She has since stepped down from a Senate agriculture subcommittee that oversees commodities, liquidated her third-party managed stock portfolio and repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
“Allegations of improper trading by Sen. Loeffler are completely false based on a political attack misrepresenting the facts to prey on the emotions of the American people as they endure the impact of a global pandemic,” Loeffler’s office said in a statement to the Georgia Recorder last week.
But criticisms flared up again after her Senate colleague, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, stepped down from his post as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman last week after reports surfaced that federal agents had seized his cellphone as part of an investigation into his stock trading.
Loeffler said she had turned over financial records to the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee pertaining to her stock trades. She said she had not been served a search warrant.
Loeffler, meanwhile, has been trying to change the narrative by staying busy on Capitol Hill, where she’s been touting her work on a series of bills to respond to the pandemic. Her campaign is staying active, too; this week it announced the formation of a “Women for Kelly” coalition, led by First Lady Marty Kemp.
“Kelly Loeffler is a conservative businesswoman and political outsider who has been fighting tirelessly for our conservative values since Brian appointed her earlier this year,” Marty Kemp said in a statement.
Collins, meanwhile, stands to gain from the ongoing controversy. “This is just not something you want to see, being perceived as profiting off a crisis,” Collins told Politico of Loeffler in March.
Former Georgia Democratic Rep. Buddy Darden said in an interview this week that he’s not a Collins supporter “by any means.” But “standing back from a distance, Collins is looking pretty good,” he said.
“Loeffler’s boat has taken on a lot of water,” Darden added.
Loeffler’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
An internal GOP poll released in early April showed Collins with the support of 36% of likely voters compared to Loeffler’s 13%, The Hill reported. She also trailed behind a Democratic opponent, pastor Raphael Warnock of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, who had support of 16 percent of voters, according to that poll.
The Civiqs poll similarly showed Collins in the lead with the support of 34% of respondents. Warnock came in second with 18%, trailed by Democrat Matt Lieberman, a Democrat and the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who registered support from 14% of those polled. Loeffler ranked No. 4, with 12% support among registered voters.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates the Georgia special Senate election as “leans Republican,” but Democrats are also hoping to benefit from the stock trading controversy and the GOP infighting.
They point to recent polling as evidence that Loeffler’s seat — as well as the seat held by her GOP colleague, Sen. David Perdue — are increasingly in play this cycle.
Democrats need a net gain of at least three seats — or four if President Donald Trump wins reelection — to take control of the Senate. Picking up even one seat in Georgia would be a huge victory for Democrats, who haven’t held a U.S. Senate seat from the Peach State since Zell Miller retired in early 2005.
“This latest polling confirms what Georgians already know: our state and both of its Senate seats are in play this election, and Democrats are in a strong position to win across the board,” Alex Floyd, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement this week.
“As Georgia’s Republican Senate contenders continue spending their time fighting each other and trying to cover for their scandals rather than focusing on the needs of Georgia families, it’s no wonder polling continues to show that the GOP is in trouble in 2020.”
Democrats took another swing at Loeffler this week after reports revealed that her husband, New York Stock Exchange Jeff Sprecher, donated $1 million to a pro-Trump super PAC in late April.
“This kind of backroom dealing is exactly why Georgians don’t trust Loeffler, and another reason why she won’t be able to bail out her failing campaign no matter how much money she and her husband light on fire,” Floyd said.