Georgia GOP abuzz about Senate vacancy

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonCollins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs Ossoff, Warnock to knock on doors in runoff campaigns Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff MORE’s (R-Ga.) decision to resign at the end of the year set off a furious behind-the-scenes scramble among Georgia Republicans vying to curry favor with Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will choose his replacement.

Isakson kept his decision private from all but his closest advisers, sources with knowledge of his decision said. Some aides and allies — including Kemp — were told he would quit just hours before the announcement went out.
Isakson’s announcement set off a torrent of phone calls and text messages between top Georgia Republicans speculating about a long list of likely replacements.

In a statement Wednesday, Kemp offered few clues to his thinking, beyond thanking Isakson for years of public service.

“Our state and country have been immeasurably blessed by his leadership in the Georgia General Assembly, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate. Senator Isakson’s list of accomplishments on behalf of the state that he loves is long and revered, but what Georgia should be most thankful for is the high standard that Johnny held as a true gentleman, a fighter for his constituents, a trusted advocate for our nation’s veterans, and one of the greatest statesmen to ever answer the call of service to our country,” Kemp said.
“I will appoint Sen. Isakson’s replacement at the appropriate time,” he added.

Kemp is likely to take one of three approaches as he weighs his options, several Georgia Republicans said: He could choose a short-term placeholder who would not seek election to the final two years of Isakson’s term.
He could choose from a long list of Georgia Republicans who want to run for the seat, giving an ambitious political ally a leg up ahead of what is certain to be a costly contest. Or he could choose an unexpected newcomer, someone few see on the radar today.

“He’ll keep it close to the vest,” predicted Jay Williams, a longtime Georgia Republican strategist.

If Kemp decides on an elder statesman to care for the seat to allow Republican voters to pick their own replacement, several Georgia Republicans pointed to Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueTrump administration races to finish environmental rules, actions OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects MORE, the first Republican to be elected as Georgia’s governor since Reconstruction.

Perdue, 72, is the cousin of Georgia’s other senator, David Perdue. He has been touring farmer’s conventions in recent weeks to assuage anger over the Trump administration’s trade war with China.

Perdue’s spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

But Georgia Republicans are conscious that their state is becoming more competitive, making a potential caretaker placeholder less likely. Instead, several ambitious younger politicians were mentioned in the early mix.

Attorney General Chris Carr (R), Isakson’s former chief of staff, just won his first statewide election after being appointed to the job by Kemp’s predecessor, Nathan Deal (R). In a statement, Carr said his career in public service had been defined by his former boss.

“Whenever I am confronted with a tough decision, I often ask myself, What would Johnny do?” Carr said.

Reps. Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottGeorgia GOP lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19 Maybe they just don't like cowboys: The president is successful, some just don't like his style Lobbying world MORE (R) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsFive things to know about Georgia's Senate runoffs Sunday shows - Health officials warn pandemic is 'going to get worse' Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs MORE (R) are both said to harbor statewide ambition. Scott, part of the Tea Party wave that arrived after the 2010 elections, represents a heavily rural district stretching from the Atlanta suburbs to the Florida border; Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, represents the northeast corner of the state.

Several Republicans also said Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesQAnon proponent Marjorie Taylor Greene wins Georgia House race Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage On The Money: Trump gambles with new stimulus strategy | Trump cannot block grand jury subpoena for his tax returns, court rules | Long-term jobless figures rise, underscoring economic pain MORE (R), another son of the Tea Party movement, would be on Kemp’s long list of potential replacements.

Kemp may be closest with his lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan (R). But Georgia Republicans cautioned that Duncan has never shown interest in serving in Washington. Instead, if Kemp reaches into the ranks of state Republican leaders, he may land on state Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller (R), who represents a district north and east of Atlanta.

Half a year into his tenure as governor, Kemp has offered what may be one early clue that he does not intend to follow well-worn paths. Earlier this year, Kemp chose John King to serve as Georgia’s insurance commissioner, a candidate few saw coming. King, the police chief of Doraville before his elevation, is Georgia’s first Hispanic statewide officeholder.

Kemp “could go against conventional wisdom and appoint somebody who’s going to execute what he wants to execute,” Williams said.

In that case, some Republicans speculated that longtime Republican strategist Nick Ayers might find himself on the short list to replace Isakson.
But Ayers, in an email, took himself out of the running.
"My decision to leave the White House and Washington, D.C. earlier this year was for the sole purpose of stepping back from politics and enjoying this season of life with my wife and three young children,” Ayers told The Hill. "They are the priority now and for the many years to come. Gov. Kemp has a number of great options to choose from who will represent our state with success and distinction — but I won’t be one of them."
Ayers, a former chief of staff to Vice President Pence and a former head of the Republican Governors Association, declined an offer to become President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE’s chief of staff in order to return home to Georgia with his family.
Several Republican strategists in Georgia lamented the absence of a woman on the likely list of candidates. None of Georgia’s 10 Republican members of Congress are women. The sole woman who had represented the state, Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelMcBath wins rematch against Handel in Georgia House race House Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts Black Lives Matter movement to play elevated role at convention MORE, lost her bid for reelection in 2018.

— Al Weaver contributed to this report.