Allies of Sen. Kelly Loeffler strategized before the Nov. 3 special election primary in Georgia about how to woo supporters of Rep. Doug Collins, who’d relentlessly attacked her ethics during the Senate campaign.
But after being edged out in the all-party contest, Collins and his top backers quickly lined up behind Loeffler, who faces the Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) in a Jan. 5 runoff.
“It was crazy, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jay Williams, who worked on the reconciliation strategy through the Loeffler-supporting Georgia United Victory super PAC. “People realize what’s at stake.”
The ability to unite the party after a fractious campaign is critical not only to Loeffler’s future but for the Republican push to maintain control of the Senate and serve as a check on President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The party needs to win at least one of the two Senate runoffs in Georgia, the other being the race between Sen. David Perdue and Jon Ossoff (D).
Republicans face other challenges in motivating their base to turn out next month, including President Donald Trump sewing doubts among GOP loyalists about the legitimacy of the electoral process after he lost the state. But Loeffler no longer has to fend off attacks from the right.
Collins conceded to Loeffler the day after the election. His top supporters, including Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), followed suit. And staffers for Collins’ Senate campaign are now working with joint Loeffler and Perdue groups and get-out-the-vote organizations.
He’s appeared on the campaign trail with Loeffler at a gun range in Jasper, a Savannah rally with Vice President Mike Pence, and at Trump’s Valdosta rally on Dec. 5. And he’s used his social media and email lists to urge his supporters to get out and vote for Loeffler.
Collins has also urged cable news viewers to turn out and vote for both Loeffler and Perdue.
“There’s probably no one more deflated than me because I worked nine months in the Senate race,” Collins said on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show last week. “But Kelly Loeffler won, and now it’s time for Kelly Loeffler to be elected to the United State Senate.”
It’s a significant pivot from the primary campaign, when Collins tied Loeffler to China, called her a “fake conservative,” and alleged Loeffler “profited off the pandemic,” referring to the sale of millions of stocks after a coronavirus briefing from government officials.
For her part, Loeffler ran an ad in late October that featured a photo of Collins hugging former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) for the entire 30 seconds and said Collins will “say or do anything to get elected.”
Chip Lake, Collins’ general consultant, said he probably wanted the congressman to win more than anyone besides the candidate and his family, but there are tangible costs of not supporting Loeffler in a close race.
“It’s frightening to me as a Republican to think that we could lose a close race here, make Chuck Schumer the majority leader of the United States Senate, and then have buyer’s remorse to not think we’re doing everything we can to win these races,” he said.
Not all Collins supporters are flocking to Loeffler. Debbie Dooley, a founder of the Tea Party movement in Atlanta, said she can’t bring herself to vote for Loeffler given allegations of insider trading, for which Democrats have targeted both Republican senators in TV ads.
“The problems I had with Kelly Loeffler during the primary did not go away,” Dooley said.
Dooley is concerned about control of the Senate, which is why she plans to vote for Perdue. And she acknowledged that “most Collins supporters are going to support Kelly.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Atlanta at firstname.lastname@example.org