The least convincing profession of right-wing bona fides since Mitt Romney cringily described himself as “severely conservative” in 2012.
Still, it made me smile. Not because it’s ha-ha funny but because Loeffler clearly isn’t a hardcore right-winger deep down. That’s why she was selected for Georgia’s open Senate seat instead of Trumpy populist Doug Collins, in fact. Gov. Brian Kemp thought that naming an upper-crust country-club Republican woman to the seat would give the GOP a better chance of holding it in a special election because white suburban women would feel more comfortable with Loeffler than with Collins. Suburbanites, especially women, are the cohort that’s been drifting away from the party in a state that’s been growing more competitive. The Loeffler appointment was Kemp’s way of trying to reverse that trend.
But then Collins spoiled the plan. If he had stayed on the sidelines, I have no doubt that Loeffler would be running as business-savvy center-right executive in the special election. Once Collins jumped in and threatened to zoom past her in the polls by consolidating the pro-Trump vote on the right, though, she had no choice but to protect her right flank. She’s been pandering to righties with lowest-common-denominator political plays ever since, attacking Mitt Romney, fighting with the WNBA over Black Lives Matter and the flag, and now running an ad half-jokingly presenting her as somewhere to the right of one of history’s most famous barbarians.
My theory of how this ad came about is that Loeffler and her well-paid team of consultants were sitting around brainstorming, joking about the sort of ad pitch that might appeal to a rural populist Trump voter who’s very much *not* part of the educational or economic class to which they belong. “These damned Trumpers wouldn’t be happy with anyone to the left of Attila the Hun!” says one. To which another says, “Hey, wait a minute…”
Watch, then read on.
As much as I’d like to tell you that Georgia Republicans completely see through this “Trumpier than Trump!” charade that Loeffler is pushing at them, it’s actually working for her. A party that’s willing to accept a billionaire New York playboy as a tribune of “real America” turns out to have little difficulty accepting a fatcat Wall Street CEO as the populist choice head to head with Collins. Loeffler has led the last two public polls of Georgia’s “jungle primary” and also led in two polls released over the weekend:
One released over the weekend by Redfield & Wilton Strategies pegged Loeffler with a slight plurality at 26%, followed by [Democrat] Warnock (21%), Collins (19%) and [Matt] Lieberman (15%).
Another from Fabrizio Ward/Hart Research Associates, a respected Republican-aligned firm, had Loeffler at 24%, followed by Warnock and Collins at around one-fifth of the vote. Lieberman, a former educator, trailed with 10% and Tarver was at 7%.
Loeffler needs to finish in the top two in November to advance to a Senate runoff on January 5 of next year. As such, her strategy right now is simple: Just finish ahead of Collins. That would all but guarantee her a spot in the runoff, where she’ll be well positioned no matter who her opponent is. If it’s a Democrat, Loeffler will move towards the center believing that the GOP will unite behind her, a safe bet knowing that the Senate is likely to be bluer next year. (There’s a chance the outcome of this race will decide the majority, and Georgians will vote in January knowing the balance of the incoming Senate.) If she ends up facing Collins in the runoff because she and he finished first and second in the jungle primary, that’s okay too. Then she’ll run as more of a centrist and hope that Democrats will reluctantly support her as the less Trumpy of their two choices.
Keep an eye on Warnock, though. He had been trailing Collins for second place but has begun to creep up lately as Georgia Dems start paying more attention to the race. A Dem firm put out this internal poll today for what it’s worth:
A Loeffler/Warnock January runoff could be armageddon, with control of the Senate and the fate of the new president’s agenda on the line. If, on the other hand, Democrats were to unite behind Warnock and he were to win the jungle primary outright in November by claiming 50 percent of the vote (a longshot but not a no-shot), that could complicate any lame-duck confirmation vote on the new SCOTUS nominee. Because this is a special election, Warnock would be sworn in and seated sometime in November or December, not in January. He’s already looking to use the Court vacancy as a ticket to victory:
I’m a pro-choice pastor fighting for reproductive justice.
My opponents want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
— Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) September 20, 2020
Even if the vacancy issue is resolved by the time Warnock is seated, an extra Democratic vote in the Senate is potentially hugely important for Biden and Schumer. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have already said that they won’t agree to nuke the filibuster for legislation, which means Schumer would need a minimum of 52 seats to have a chance at making it happen. Warnock is potentially the 52nd. He’d have a strong electoral incentive in a purple state like Georgia not to go nuclear, but maybe he’s willing to do it to enable a progressive agenda. This is an important race. And neither Collins nor “Attila” is so strong that the risk of a Democratic upset should be discounted.