“No one in Georgia cares about the QAnon business,” Loeffler told reporters defiantly after pulling up to the event in a Humvee and sporting a baseball cap with congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene by her side. “This is something the fake news continues to bring – and ignore Antifa.”
Loeffler, a nominated senator and one of the richest in Congress, has been in a race to the right with GOP reps. Doug Collins, a party within the party who has received deep Republican concerns that it could split the vote and help Democrats sweep Georgia and take the Senate majority.
This is a scenario that GOP leaders have feared privately for several months – and one they had tried to avoid at the beginning of the year. Privately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had advised his top lieutenants and even President Donald Trump to ensure that the party would unite behind a candidate and avoid a messy internecine battle that could jeopardize the crucial Senate seat, several GOP sources told CNN.
But Collins, who lobbied for the Senate nomination that Government Brian Kemp gave to Loeffler, entered the race earlier this year over the furious opposition from the National Republican Senate Committee. As Trump has been quiet about his preference in the race, the two candidates have tried to offset the other and show their loyalty to the president and move further and further to the right in a state where Atlanta̵
The race offers challenges unlike others in the country. Since it is a special election, there is no primary election. So to win the election in November directly, a candidate must exceed 50% of the vote; if not, meet the top two candidates in a run-off in January. Since any candidate is unlikely to reach the 50 percent threshold, both Collins and Loeffler have competed intensely to quit by seeking out Republican voters and appealing to the Conservative base, representing a piece of the state’s 6.9 million registered voters.
It has created an opening for the leading Democratic candidate, Pastor Raphael Warnock, who has mostly been unharmed in the middle of the daily slug party between Collins and Loeffler, and was rewarded with a Friday rally led by former President Barack Obama.
Republicans are privately concerned that the bitter Collins-Loeffler battle divides the party during the campaign’s most critical moment and now threatens both Senate seats, a scenario that some Republicans warned could happen months ago when Collins entered the race.
All of this has left some top Republicans frustrated with Collins, accusing him of putting his own personal ambitions ahead of the goal of retaining a Senate majority.
“In a difficult election cycle like this, you really need candidates to avoid making selfish decisions that further complicate your party’s ability to win,” said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff at McConnell who still advises the GOP leader. “It obviously did not happen in Georgia.”
How the two GOP candidates correct the court
Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator in 20 years. But Democrats are optimistic they will compete in the state, spurred on by Republican running to the right, growth in the Atlanta suburbs and voter expansion efforts led by former state Democratic leader Stacey Abrams.
Late last year, Kemp appointed Loeffler to serve the remainder of Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson’s term after his resignation. Part of the draw from Loeffler, who is married to New York Stock Exchange CEO Jeff Sprecher, was that she could appeal to the rapidly diversifying suburbs – especially suburban women – and could fundraise herself. (The couple has so far spent at least $ 25 million of their own money on the race.)
The governor threatened to veto the bill and it went nowhere.
But now the Republican candidates are spending the last days of the Senate race as if they were running a primary and trying to appeal to the hardcore members of their party – like Greene.
At Thursday’s event, a reporter asked Loeffler if she accepted the approval of someone who had disseminated “the baseless QAnon theories” and “made burning, xenophobic, controversial remarks” before asking if she was concerned that Greene damages the party’s fire in state.
“Look, I know nothing about QAnon,” Loeffler replied. “I know how the media twists people’s words, they do it over and over, they even make things up.”
A Republican strategist in Georgia who is not affiliated with any of the campaigns said Loeffler’s approval event with Greene was “nothing short of a greeting to Mary.”
“I think it’s devastating for her in a runoff,” said the GOP strategist, who asked for anonymity to assess the race openly. “The day after Election Day on our side, if Kelly Loeffler somehow had to pull this off, there would be an ad within five minutes linking her to QAnon. And it’s not going to be good.”
Asked if he was worried that Loeffler’s pitch for conservative voters would turn independent and potentially hurt the senator in a run – off, Loeffler’s spokesman Stephen Lawson told CNN that the GOP senator would be able to paint Warnock as outside the mainstream.
“Raphael Warnock is the most radically liberal and extreme candidate running for the Senate across the country – so we are very excited about the opportunity to meet him in the January run-off,” Lawson said.
On Capitol Hill, Loeffler has maintained a low profile and rarely speaks to journalists, flanked by an aide and often passing by in silence when asked a question. And in the extremely rare event that she answers a reporter’s request, she speaks Trump’s language.
In Georgia, however, her movements have created waves.
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by the police, Loeffler, co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, was engaged this summer in a fight with the league and her own players and wrote in July to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert that she “sharply” “opposed it. Black Lives Matter political movement, which she called “completely misguided by the values and goals of the WNBA and Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion. ”
Players reacted in kind wearing black shirts that said, “Vote Warnock.”
Loeffler might not have had to fight in the wars of culture if Collins had not decided to run for the Senate.
Georgia’s congressman was the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and led Trump’s defense under the president’s prosecution last year – something he repeatedly proclaimed on the campaign trail.
Collins on Thursday announced a “Trump Defender Statewide Tour” with some of the president’s deepest allies, including Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona and former Trump advisers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, who were players in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Collins campaign spokesman Dan McLagan said Collins would drive his “family suburbs, pulled by volunteers in a 15-person van running on liberal tears.”
McLagan said Greene was “a nice addition to Kelly,” but said the senator “looked as comfortable at that press conference as a deer at a hunting convention.”
“Georgians know Doug is the real conservative, and Kelly is a fake,” he said.
The Conservatives’ courtship has Democrats optimistic about the race.
Warnock, a senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta who raised the last $ 13 million last quarter, has already attacked the senator over accepting Greene’s endorsement.
“Instead of acting in division and proudly standing with those who spray dangerous rhetoric like Marjorie Taylor Greene, we are focused on being a voice for all Georgians,” Warnock said.
While Warnock is the heavy favorite to make it a runoff, some Democrats fear that Matt Lieberman, a Democratic candidate and son of former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman who has participated in the individual figures, will pledge enough support away to to prevent Warnock from winning in November directly.
Regardless, Democratic leaders believe the fighting between the GOP and the GOP, combined with former Vice President Joe Biden’s aggressive play in the state, will strengthen their candidates’ ticket.
“If Joe Biden carries Georgia, which would be a major event in American politics, then those on the other side of this equation will have a hard time,” said Senate minority whip Dick Durbin, a Democrat in Illinois.