© Greg Nash
After Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonCritical race theory becomes focus of midterms Former Georgia ethics official to challenge McBath Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run MORE (R-Ga.) said earlier this year he would resign from the Senate, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) took the unusual step of asking those interested in filling the seat to apply online.
By Monday, when the deadline to apply passed, more than 500 Georgians had taken up Kemp’s offer.
Kemp has not detailed his thinking process on the Senate appointment. A spokesman said the governor has not set a timeline for his decision
But Georgia Republicans and those familiar with Kemp’s thinking say he is weighing two potential paths: He can choose a conventional route with a known and tested elected official, or he can move outside the box and choose someone who has never held public office before.
Those sources say that among Kemp’s 500 choices, a clear top tier has emerged. 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 (R-Ga.), a conservative who has emerged as one of President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE’s top defenders on the House Judiciary Committee, is perhaps the best-known elected official on the list. State House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R), the most senior woman in Georgia’s state legislature, has also applied.
Two top Kemp allies applied late in the process, just hours before the deadline. One is Robyn Crittenden, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Service, who briefly replaced Kemp as secretary of state. Another is Allen Poole, who runs Kemp’s Office of Highway Safety. Either Crittenden or Poole would be Georgia’s first African American senator.
Two other candidates are likely to grab Kemp’s attention: Jackie Gingrich Cushman, an author of several history and political books and the daughter of former House Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.), applied early in the process. And Kelly Loefeller, a wealthy Republican donor who runs a financial services firm and co-owns the Atlanta Dream WNBA franchise, threw her name in the ring at the last moment.
“I have long considered how I can give back to our country through public service,” Loefeller wrote in her application. “It is important — now more than ever before — to have leaders with significant life and business experience outside of politics representing Georgia families in Washington, D.C.”
Several other current and former officials are on the list of applicants, including former Reps. Paul BrounPaul Collins BrounHundreds apply to fill Isakson's Senate seat in Georgia Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia California lawmaker's chief of staff resigns after indictment MORE (R), Jack KingstonJohon (Jack) Heddens KingstonThe Hill's Top Lobbyists 2020 Lobbying world Disagreements are a part of our process MORE (R) and Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Former Georgia ethics official to challenge McBath A proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US MORE (R), President Trump’s first Health and Human Services secretary; Randy Evans, Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg and a prominent Republican donor; Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols; and state Sen. Tyler Harper (R), who is close to Kemp.
Some of the top potential candidates for the appointment decided against filing applications. They included Attorney General Chris Carr (R), former Rep. Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelOssoff defeats Perdue in Georgia Senate runoff McBath wins rematch against Handel in Georgia House race House Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts MORE (R), who is running for her old House seat, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R), perhaps Kemp’s closest ally.
Kemp’s spokesman declined to detail the governor’s thinking on the appointment. But several sources said Kemp is leaning toward an outside-the-box pick.
Republican strategists are conscious that the appointee would immediately need to mount a reelection campaign in a state that has emerged as an electoral battleground, potentially favoring someone who could fund their own campaign or who would begin with a strong fundraising base.
There are signs that Kemp’s eventual pick might not have a clear shot at the Republican nomination next year. Collins told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that he might run even if he doesn’t get the nomination.
“In recent days and weeks, I’ve heard from more and more Georgians encouraging me to pursue statewide service. Those Georgians deserve to have me consider their voices — so I am, strongly,” he told the paper.
Though Democrats believe Georgia’s electorate is moving to the left, several top-tier contenders have opted against running either for Isakson’s seat or against Sen. David Perdue (R) next year. Those who have announced campaigns — including 2017 congressional nominee Jon Ossoff (D), businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico (D) and former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson (D) — have all opted to challenge Perdue.
Only one Democrat, businessman Matt Lieberman, has formally said he will run for Isakson’s seat.