Collins expected to announce Georgia Senate bid

Collins expected to announce Georgia Senate bid
© Greg Nash

Georgia Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsOvernight Defense: Seven day 'reduction in violence' starts in Afghanistan | US, Taliban plan to sign peace deal Feb. 29 | Trump says top intel job has four candidates Trump says he is considering four candidates for intelligence chief Doug Collins not interested in national intelligence role despite Trump interest MORE, the top Republican in the House Judiciary Committee, is planning to launch a primary challenge against Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerDoug Collins not interested in national intelligence role despite Trump interest The Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday Trump considering Doug Collins as nominee for director of national intelligence MORE (R-Ga.) in the coming days, multiple GOP sources confirmed on Monday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the news.

The development could make it tougher for the GOP to hold onto the traditionally red Senate seat in 2020. The pair of Republicans will now be spending millions of dollars bashing each other in a state that recently has become a key battleground.

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In 2018, Republican Brian Kemp narrowly edged out Democrat Stacey Abrams in the Georgia governor’s race 50.2 percent to 48.8 percent.

Collins, one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration MORE’s closest allies in the House, previously sought an appointment to the Senate in the wake of the retirement of longtime Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonProgressive group backs Senate candidates in Georgia, Iowa Overnight Health Care: Trump budget calls for cutting Medicaid, ACA by T | Trump proposes removing FDA authority over tobacco | Lawmakers frustrated by lack of emergency funds for coronavirus Anti-abortion group backs Loeffler's election campaign after opposing her Senate appointment MORE (R-Ga.), who stepped down from his seat in December due to health problems.

Trump and his allies had heavily lobbied GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to appoint Collins, but Kemp on Dec. 4 ultimately opted to appoint Loeffler, 49, a wealthy finance executive and Republican mega-donor. She was sworn in on Jan. 6, just weeks before Trump’s impeachment trial began.

Under current election law, Georgia is slated to hold a special jungle primary election on Nov. 3, with the two top vote-getters — regardless of party — facing each other in a run-off election.

But Collins allies in the Georgia statehouse are trying to change the election law to create a traditional primary that would be held in May. Collins believes a speedier, head-to-head match-up with Loeffler would favor him over the lesser-known freshman senator.

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And Democrats in the state Capitol in Atlanta seem willing to help Collins’s legislative push as well.

“Democrats love the intraparty fight and would prefer Collins on the general-election ballot versus a suburban female,” one Georgia GOP source said, “so they are joining with the Republican Speaker to assist with the law change and provide veto override votes if needed.”

A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows Collins with a slight advantage of Loeffler, with 34 percent of Georgia voters surveyed saying they have a favorable opinion to Loeffler’s 22 percent.

The Collins news comes on the same day Loeffler — who previously came under fire from March for Life Action and other conservative groups for sitting on the board of a hospital that performed abortions — took aim at Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Progressives hope Nevada offers roadmap for pro-union 2020 victory Texas woman sentenced for illegal voting faces deportation after parole MORE (R-Utah) for expressing interest in calling in additional witnesses during the impeachment trial.

"Sadly, my colleague [Romney] wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over," Loeffler tweeted.

Many campaign observers interpreted that as Loeffler trying to shore up her right flank and pro-Trump bona fides ahead of a possible Collins primary challenge.

Collins, 53, was one of Trump’s chief defenders during the House’s impeachment inquiry, having played a key role in pushing back against House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Nadler demands answers from Barr on 'new channel' for receiving Ukraine info from Giuliani Trump predicts Ocasio-Cortez will launch primary bid against Schumer MORE (D-N.Y.) and frequently going to bat for the president on cable news and media scrums in the Capitol.

Collins “likes his name-ID and the polling, but this is a direct challenge to the governor,” said one Georgia Republican source who’s familiar with the looming race.

Money will be another factor. Loeffler has expressed she is willing to spend as much as $20 million on her race to secure her seat in November; Collins has nearly $1.4 million cash on hand, according to recent campaign finance records.

“This will be an outsider vs. career politician. Kelly has a huge money advantage and she’s already on TV. NRSC is treating her like an incumbent. Behind her is Gov Kemp. He is the most popular elected official in GA with a huge network of grassroots supporters,” one source close to Loeffler told The Hill.

An official for the National Republican Senatorial Committee confirmed that Senate GOP's campaign arm plans to stand by Loeffler in her race.

Al Weaver and Alex Gangitano contributed.