Loeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid

Loeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid
© Greg Nash

Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerAndrew Clyde wins Georgia GOP runoff to replace Doug Collins Black VP politics and the case for Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer New poll shows tight presidential race in Georgia MORE (R-Ga.) is taking steps to earn support from the conservative flank of the Republican Party as she faces what is expected to be a heated primary battle for her Senate seat against Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsWin by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP Andrew Clyde wins Georgia GOP runoff to replace Doug Collins New poll shows tight presidential race in Georgia MORE (R-Ga.). 

Loeffler, a wealthy financial executive whom Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed to fill the seat of Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonNew poll shows tight presidential race in Georgia Matt Lieberman faces calls to drop out of Georgia Senate race over 'racist and discriminatory' tropes in 2018 book Sabato's Crystal Ball shifts Iowa Senate race to 'toss-up,' Georgia toward GOP MORE (R-Ga.) after he stepped down at the end of last year due to a series of health issues, has previously faced accusations from conservative groups of being too moderate. 

But conservatives appear to be warming to the Georgia Republican who has made an effort to meet with with several conservative groups and their leaders including Club for Growth, Penny Nance from Concerned Women for America, Carolyn Meadows of the NRA, Tony Perkins of Family Research Council and Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List. She is also slated to meet with leaders from the National Right to Life and Americans for Prosperity.

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The senator, who has been closely linked to Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Ron Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (R-Utah), came under fire from some conservative groups, with some alleging that she held her board seat at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, starting in 2014, at a time when the medical center was performing abortions, even though it has reportedly not performed abortions since at least 2009.

But as Loeffler continues her meetings, the new senator's work has appeared to pay off. Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised her on social media despite the group's initial resistance.

“Congratulations @kloeffler on being sworn in to the U.S. Senate today! In our conversations your heart for unborn children & commitment to the #prolife cause is clear. We look forward to working with you to advance pro-life laws and confirm President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE’s judicial nominees,” she tweeted. 

The Georgia senator has also recently hired a sizable number of conservatives to her team: two staffers from the office of Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsOvernight Health Care: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal | US records deadliest day of summer | Georgia governor drops lawsuit over Atlanta's mask mandate Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Pelosi: COVID talks will resume when GOP offers T MORE (R-N.C.), a top Trump ally, two staffers from Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawABC News mocked for 'peaceful demonstration intensified' report The Memo: Muted conventions may scramble 2020 race The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response MORE’s (R-Texas) office and a staffer from House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceQAnon backer Marjorie Taylor Greene wins Georgia GOP runoff QAnon supporter in Georgia heads into tight GOP runoff GOP lawmakers comply with Pelosi's mask mandate for House floor MORE’s (R-Ga.) office — a move that can help her gain clout with key conservative groups that could bolster her position in the upcoming race.  

"I think that it's setting Kelly up nicely because it shows conservatives that they can really trust her as an ally," one GOP Senate strategist told The Hill, noting the staff has previous working relationships with conservative media organizations and outside groups like the Heritage Foundation.

The group Club for Growth's President David McIntosh said Loeffler's staffing decisions are an encouraging sign. And while the group hasn’t officially endorsed her in the Senate race, it has announced its plans to run $3 million in television ads against Collins which are set to start airing in the coming days. 

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"We sat down with her in kind of an introductory meeting, and I was impressed by her intelligence and her business experience from all the previous careers. But as she said, she just got here and is just learning the Senate and how to go about that,” McIntosh told The Hill in an interview on Friday. 

“So having really good staff behind her will, I think, be an enormous assistance. And one of the things that we've noticed is senators that have conservatives working for them on their staff get more of the information that they need to make votes on critical issues.”

The Georgia Life Alliance also launched a radio ad supporting Loeffler and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) last week. 

“Senator Loeffler is proud to have the support of so many conservatives across Georgia and across the country,” Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson said in a statement.

"They recognize that she is a political outsider committed to supporting President Trump and protecting our conservative values, and she looks forward to delivering results for the people of the Peach State.”   

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, and the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC have already vowed to back her in the primary. She has also received endorsements from conservative colleagues in the upper chamber including Sens. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump campaign blasts 'phony' Harris after Biden names her VP Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline MORE (R-Tenn.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonRussian news agency pushed video of Portland protestors burning a Bible: report Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump China sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong MORE (R-Ark.) and Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerCongress botched the CFPB's leadership — here's how to fix it White House, Senate GOP clash over testing funds Prioritizing access to care: Keeping telehealth options for all Americans MORE (R-Neb.).

Loeffler's efforts to align herself with conservatives could prove to be problematic for Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, who has played a leading role in defending President Trump throughout the impeachment proceedings.

While top conservative lawmakers in Congress and the president showed support for Collins ahead of Loeffler's appointment, House lawmakers have been hesitant to get involved in the future primary battle.

“Well, Doug and I have been friends for many years, we served in the Georgia House together and of course have served up here in Washington together. He is a fine fellow, and does an outstanding job as Judiciary chairman,” Rep. Buddy CarterEarl (Buddy) Leroy CarterOvernight Health Care: Trump says White House will pressure governors to open schools | Administration formally moves to withdraw US from WHO | Fauci warns against 'false complacency' on COVID-19 House fires back at Trump by passing ObamaCare expansion Loeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid MORE (R-Ga.) said Thursday.

“Sen. Loeffler has done an outstanding job, I've been super impressed with the work that she has done and this is a very difficult situation for us to be in, but it is what it is so we have to deal with it. At this point I'm, I'm going to continue to work with Doug here in the House, I'm going to continue to work with Sen. Loeffler as the voters send us up here to do,” he continued.

Loeffler has also been working to prove her pro-Trump credentials, taking aim at Romney just for his support of bringing in additional witnesses to testify as part of the impeachment trial just ahead of Collins’ announcement. 

Sources close to the president said it’s unlikely Trump will get involved in the primary despite his close working relationship with Collins. 

"I don't think he does," said one GOP member when asked if Trump will endorse at all. 

However, multiple sources close to Loeffler cited the president’s shoutout to her during the signing of the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada last week as an encouraging sign. 

"Kelly Loeffler, congratulations Kelly, they already like you a lot. That's what the word is,” Trump said at the gathering at the White House. 

“I think it's very clear to anyone that she's putting in the hard work. That she is the conservative businesswoman that Kemp said she is,” a GOP Senate strategist said. “I think people are seeing that more and more and realize the threat that splitting votes would do.”

But despite the political gains that Loeffler has made with the far-right, Collins still presents a formidable threat to her reelection bid. 

Collins has the backing of a number of high-profile conservatives including numerous state legislators; Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, Fox News host Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityPence on debating Harris: 'I can't wait' QAnon supporter in Georgia heads into tight GOP runoff Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE and conservative radio host Mark LevinMark Reed LevinBarr: The left 'believes in tearing down the system' Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon MORE

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The Collins’ camp is looking to go after Loeffler for previously donating to Romney’s campaign, alleging that Georgia voters don’t see her as a true Trump Republican. 

“It’s worth mentioning how much ground she has to make up for. Georgia sees her as a Romney Republican. Her tweet on Monday, attacking Romney, came after rumors that Doug was announcing,” one source close to Collins said. “She didn’t donate to Trump until after she and Kemp had met/spoken several times, the vetting process had already begun (the same day Doug flew down to Atlanta with POTUS on AF1 for Trump fundraiser).”

Loeffler supporters have slammed the accusations she isn’t committed to the president’s agenda, arguing it’s unfair to blast her for supporting Romney in 2012 because she felt he was the better of the two candidates. They added that Collins has supported moderate GOP candidates in their races in the past as well. 

“Collins was a big supporter of Scott Walker and in 2016, he was Walker's state chair," one senior GOP aide said. “That's way more recent and much more relevant.”

Loeffler and Collins are expected to face off in a jungle primary on Nov. 3 with a runoff likely to take place on Jan. 5, 2021.

Updated at 8:11 p.m. on Feb. 5.