Collins announces U.S. Senate bid after eyebrow-raising Gold Dome visit

    Georgia Congressman Doug Collins briefly talks to reporters at the Georgia Capitol Jan. 28, 2020. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

    Georgia U.S. Rep. Doug Collins visited the Gold Dome Tuesday amid reports that he is preparing to challenge governor-appointed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and as lawmakers push through a bill that would require her to survive a primary contest with Collins.

    But his brief message to reporters Tuesday was this: Stay tuned.

    Collins, who is a former state representative, addressed the House in the morning as the chaplain of the day and as part of a tribute to the late state Rep. Jay Powell, an influential state lawmaker who died unexpectedly in November.

    His appearance, though, came on the heels of multiple reports that Collins plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat.

    “For other questions that any of you may be asking, there will be more coming later. God bless you,” Collins said quickly to reporters as he left the House chamber Tuesday.

    By Wednesday morning, Collins had officially thrown his hat in the ring.

    President Donald Trump and other allies reportedly pushed Gov. Brian Kemp to tap Collins for the seat when former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson announced last year that he would step down early for health reasons. Kemp instead picked Loeffler, a businesswoman and wealthy Republican donor, in what many have seen as a nod made to better compete in the northern Atlanta suburbs.

    Collins’ visit also played out as state lawmakers quickly acting on a bill to require a primary process for special elections instead of the scheduled “jungle primary” format, where all candidates are on the same ballot this November.

    It’s viewed as a change that could give the Republican congressman an edge over the lesser known Loeffler, although it would also help Democrats who no longer risk spreading the vote out among too many candidates. That said, the measure has bipartisan support and has already cleared a key committee Tuesday morning.

    Kemp stands ready to veto it.

    “You don’t change the rules at half-time to benefit one team over another,” Candice Broce, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “People are sick and tired of it. The governor will veto any bill that attempts to undermine the rule of law for perceived political gain.”

    Georgia House Speaker David Ralston told reporters Tuesday that a bill rejecting the “jungle primary” format “just brings us in line with what the vast majority of states are doing.” Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

    House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said he disagrees that the proposal gives anyone an advantage.

    “Georgia is one of only a very, very few states in the country that still cling to this ‘jungle primary’ thing,” Ralston told reporters Tuesday. “This just brings us in line with what the vast majority of states are doing.”

    He also rebuffed claims that the measure was intended to undercut Loeffler or the governor.

    “Anybody that’s running is going to have an equal shot at winning, so I don’t understand that at all,” Ralston told reporters.

    Ralston called Collins a “friend” from his perch in the House, saying Collins stood by him when few did. But Ralston said later that he’s not endorsing anyone.

    Collins, who has represented Georgia’s 9th District, is the ranking member for the House Judiciary Committee and has been Trump’s top defender during the impeachment proceedings.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.