Georgia Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock Poll shows tight GOP primary for Georgia governor MORE, the top Republican in the House Judiciary Committee, is planning to launch a primary challenge against Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerDraft Georgia congressional lines target McBath, shore up Bourdeaux Warnock picks up major abortion rights group's endorsement in reelection bid Trump endorses Hershel Walker for Georgia Senate seat 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.
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 TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations 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 IsaksonHerschel Walker calls off fundraiser with woman who had swastika in Twitter profile Georgia reporter says state will 'continue to be a premier battleground' Critical race theory becomes focus of midterms 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.
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 RomneyTrump-backed bills on election audits, illegal voting penalties expected to die in Texas legislature The Memo: Conservatives change their tune on big government Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals 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 NadlerMore than 200 women, transgender inmates to be transferred from Rikers Island Alabama using COVID funds to build new prisons — is that Biden's vision? Alabama clears plan to use COVID-19 relief funds to build prisons 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.