Loeffler, Warnock head to runoff

Kelly Loeffler, Raphael Warnock, Doug Collins, candidates for Georgia Senate

Reuters; Getty Images

The hotly contested Georgia special election is projected to go to a January runoff between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Ebenezer Baptist Church Pastor Raphael Warnock, NBC New projected.

Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat late last year, had fought fiercely with Rep. Doug Collins for dominance on the Republican side of the special election. Recent polls of the race showed support split relatively evenly between them.

But after results began to roll in Tuesday night, Collins announced in a tweet that he had endorsed Loeffler.

“I just called @kloeffler and congratulated her on making the runoff,” Collins tweeted. “She has my support and endorsement. I look forward to all Republicans coming together.”

With no candidate projected to reach more than 50% of the vote, special election rules state that the top two finishers will compete in a Jan. 5 runoff that will help determine which party takes control of the U.S. Senate. 

The special election pitted several candidates against each other to replace Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired last year because of health challenges.

Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp chose businesswoman Loeffler in late 2019 to temporarily replace Isakson, who retired with three years left in his term. 

Since Isakson had so much time left, his seat is up for election both this year in the special contest to finish the current term, and in 2022 for a regular, six-year Senate term.

On the Democratic side, support had mostly consolidated by November behind Warnock. His Atlanta church is where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor in the 1960s.

Warnock’s principal opponent on the left was Matt Lieberman, son of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. Lieberman faced widespread pressure from fellow Democrats to drop out of the race out of fear his presence on the ballot could jeopardize the party’s chances to qualify for the runoff.

Notable demographic changes around Georgia’s major cities such as Atlanta have slowly put the historically Republican state in play for Democrats on the national stage.

On the Republican side, Loeffler faced a tough reelection challenge from Collins, a fierce supporter of President Donald Trump.

Loeffler in January became the second woman to represent Georgia in the Senate. Kemp resisted Trump’s calls to nominate Collins. Other Republicans worried that Loeffler, who once supported Mitt Romney, simply wasn’t conservative enough.

Loeffler was quick to bolster her conservative resume throughout 2020 in the hopes of fending off attacks from Collins, who had for months argued that he has a more consistent political track record. 

Asked during a debate in October to name one thing Trump has said or done that she disagrees with, Loeffler said “No.” Instead, she trumpeted her several months of voting with the president.

For his part, Collins for months touted what he believes is his more consistent adherence to conservative values and attacked Loeffler for “shady” stock trading earlier in the year.

Loeffler, the wealthiest member of Congress, came under fire in the spring after it was revealed that she and her husband had sold up to $3 million worth of equities. Those stock sales came right before a massive drop in the market in reaction to the spread of Covid-19 in the United States. 

Adding to the scrutiny, Loeffler is married to Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange. The couple’s combined net worth is about $520 million, according to The Washington Post.

The regular election for Georgia’s other Senate seat, between incumbent Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, is also extremely competitive.

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