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 LoefflerGOP braces for brutal primary in Georgia governor's election Perdue to challenge Kemp in Georgia governor primary: report Senate GOP worries Trump could derail bid for majority 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 CollinsJan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote Lobbying world Sunday shows preview: Biden administration confronts inflation spike MORE (R-Ga.). 

Loeffler, a wealthy financial executive whom Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed to fill the seat of 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.) 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 RomneyBiden nominates Meg Whitman as ambassador to Kenya Most Utah voters say Trump should not run again in 2024: poll Romney praises Biden's boycott of Beijing Olympics 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 TrumpJury in Jussie Smollett trial begins deliberations Pence says he'll 'evaluate' any requests from Jan. 6 panel Biden's drug overdose strategy pushes treatment for some, prison for others 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 MeadowsMeadows suing Pelosi, Jan. 6 committee Pelosi says she'll 'never forgive' Trump, lackeys over Jan. 6 Jan. 6 committee moving forward with contempt charges against Meadows MORE (R-N.C.), a top Trump ally, two staffers from Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawCrenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' GOP lawmaker fined ,000 for failing to complete House security screening Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — US joins pledge to end overseas fossil funding MORE’s (R-Texas) office and a staffer from House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceA woke military is no defense at all — why Defense bill in current form must not pass Gosar faces increasing odds of censure on House floor Cheney, Kinzinger signal they'd back Gosar censure 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. 

"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 BlackburnInstagram chief gets bipartisan grilling over harm to teens Senators to grill Instagram chief over platform's effect on children GOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments' MORE (R-Tenn.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments' White House announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics Demand Justice launches ad campaign backing Biden nominee who drew GOP pushback MORE (R-Ark.) and Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden may get reprieve with gas price drop EPA proposes lowering past blending requirements for gasoline, rejecting waivers Overnight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' 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 CarterTrump endorses Hershel Walker for Georgia Senate seat Herschel Walker's entrance shakes up Georgia Senate race Herschel Walker files paperwork to run for Senate in Georgia 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. 

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"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 HannityLeft and right take aim at Big Tech — and the First Amendment Rittenhouse says he's destroying gun used in fatal Kenosha shootings Dr. Oz expected to run for Senate in Pennsylvania as a Republican: reports MORE and conservative radio host Mark LevinMark Reed LevinTrump draws attention with admission he 'fired Comey' Fox News signs book deal with HarperCollins Former California senator prods Feinstein to consider retirement 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.