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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks in November at Kia’s 10-year anniversary celebration in West Point. — Photo by Dustin Duncan

Georgia governor fumes at ‘attacks’ over appointment for Isakson seat

By Ben Nadler
The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp pushed back on Wednesday against speculation over whom he’ll appoint to replace retiring Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.

The Republican governor took to Twitter to slam what he called “attacks and games” and said more information about his choice would be available after Thanksgiving. The application process has sparked infighting among Republicans.

“The idea that I would appoint someone to the U.S. Senate that is NOT pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, pro-freedom, and 100% supportive of our President (and his plan to Keep America Great) is ridiculous,” Kemp said.

Kemp’s comments came less than a week after he made a secret trip to Washington to discuss the appointment with President Donald Trump. White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham confirmed that the two met Sunday.

Kemp’s appointee will serve for less than a year before the seat goes up for grabs in an open-to-all special election. That will put both of Georgia’s Republican-held U.S. Senate seats on the ballot alongside President Trump in 2020, raising the state’s profile as a political battleground.

Wealthy financial services executive Kelly Loeffler has risen to the top of the pile of applicants and is seen as a Kemp favorite for the post. But she’s been attacked by conservative groups for being a political novice and appearing too moderate.

Rep. Doug Collins, one of President Donald Trump’s chief defenders in Congress, has also applied. Collins’ allies have waged a pressure campaign in recent weeks and turned up the heat on Kemp.

At the center of the dispute is a debate over who can best help the GOP position itself for success in the November 2020 elections in Georgia. Loeffler’s supporters believe she can widen the Republican tent and appeal to women and suburban Atlanta voters, who have trended more Democratic since Trump’s election. Collins’ supporters, meanwhile, say that an experienced campaigner with proven conservative credentials is needed.

Kemp is also trying to avoid division within the Republican party that could end with another top-tier GOP candidate entering the race to challenge his appointee. And he’s keenly aware that a single tweet from the president could be the difference between whether that appointee sinks or swims. Such a tweet was credited with helping Kemp pull off an upset victory in his GOP primary for Georgia governor last year.

Isakson, who is in his third term, previously announced that he’s stepping down at the end of the year because of mounting health issues.

One of the unexpected hallmarks of Kemp’s first year in office has been the appointment of a diverse slate of candidates to state panels and judicial posts, which has surprised even some of his most ardent critics.

Kemp took the unusual step of opening an online application process for the Senate seat in September and asked everyone from congressional representatives to ordinary Georgians to apply. In addition to Collins and Loeffler, other top Republicans who have applied include former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and state House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones.