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Collins expected to announce Georgia Senate bid

Collins expected to announce Georgia Senate bid
© Greg Nash

Georgia Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsDrudge congratulates Warnock, says Ann Coulter should have been GOP candidate Warnock defeats Loeffler in Georgia Senate runoff Warnock says he needs to win 'by comfortable margin' because 'funny things go on' MORE, the top Republican in the House Judiciary Committee, is planning to launch a primary challenge against Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerDemocrats swear in three senators to gain majority Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges 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 TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds 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 IsaksonLoeffler concedes to Warnock Hawley to still object to Pennsylvania after Capitol breached Hillary Clinton trolls McConnell: 'Senate Minority Leader' 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 RomneyBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Romney: Founders didn't intend pardons to be used for 'cronies' 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 NadlerPelosi names 9 impeachment managers Republicans gauge support for Trump impeachment Clyburn blasts DeVos and Chao for 'running away' from 25th Amendment fight 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.