Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. | Alex Brandon/AP Photo
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear on Tuesday that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s pick for a Senate seat will have the full backing of the Republican establishment, sending a clear message that anyone who challenges Kelly Loeffler will face the full weight of the GOP machine.
Kemp, a Republican, is expected to appoint Loeffler on Wednesday to replace retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a highly divisive move in the Republican Party. President Donald Trump was pushingfor Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), and conservative groups lambastedLoeffler as wobbly on social issues. Collins has declined to rule out running in the primary for the seat in next year’s special election.
But McConnell said Loeffler would be treated as an incumbent and would enjoy full backing from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and sitting senators.
“It seems to me like the governor of Georgia made a terrific appointment,” McConnell said. “She will be an incumbent Republican senator. We will all be behind her. Sen. [Todd] Young has already made it clear the NRSC is going to be behind her. I’m going to be behind her, and I’m confident that someone we’re working with every day will enjoy total support from the Republican conference.”
The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund is also expected to back Loeffler.
Trump’s allies have attacked Kemp for spurning Trump’s advice to choose Collins, raising the prospect of a contested primary in a critical Senate race next year. Such divisions backfired in 2017 when establishment support for Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Senate from Alabama, was not enough to defeat Roy Moore, eventually costing the GOP a seat. But Republicans argue that Loeffler is stronger and lacks the baggage that Strange brought to the Senate and the subsequent special election campaign.
Georgia has two Senate elections in 2020: one to replace Isakson, and the other in which Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is running for reelection. Isakson gave his farewell speech on Tuesday and was feted at a bipartisan lunch for his long Senate career.