Rep. Doug Collins expected to run for Senate, setting up GOP clash

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) is planning to announce a run for the Senate, according to multiple sources, challenging appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and complicating Republicans’ path to holding onto a battleground Senate seat this year.

Loeffler and Collins will both be running to complete the term of former Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned at the end of last year due to health concerns. The election is an all-party contest in November, with the top-two challengers facing off in a January runoff if no candidate tops 50 percent of the vote.

The announcement is expected to come soon. Collins' office declined to comment.

Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) appointed Loeffler to the seat last year after a months-long application process where hundreds of candidates — including Collins — submitted their names for consideration.

Collins, who was President Donald Trump’s preferred pick for the appointment, said this month he was still considering running for the seat in 2020. Collins had reached out to the White House to take their temperature about a potential bid, according to one GOP official.

Collins has the benefit of being one of Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. As the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Collins played a leading role defending Trump from impeachment in the House. Collins was also tapped by Trump to serve as an impeachment surrogate during the Senate trial, allowing him to continue mounting a vigorous — and public — defense of the president.

Trump and his allies had pressed Kemp to appoint Collins, who they felt would be a reliable ally in the Senate. A handful of right-of-center groups had also come out against Loeffler, expressing concern that she lacked conservative credentials. And during a meeting at the White House late last year, Trump noted that Loeffler was not an original backer of his 2016 campaign and raised concerns that she has never held elected office before.

Kemp’s allies, however, praised the selection of Loeffler, hoping that she could help the party compete in suburban areas that have increasingly moved away from Republicans since Trump’s election. Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have rallied around their new colleague and pledged to back her in November.

And in an apparent bid to ward off any Republican challengers and demonstrate her campaign’s strength, Loeffler, a wealthy finance executive, pledged to pour $20 million of her own money into the race. Her campaign has already blanketed the Georgia airwaves with a TV ad where she criticizes impeachment and portrays herself as an ally to Trump.

Since coming to the Senate, Loeffler has been maneuvering to win over skeptics and solidify her conservative bona fides. She has signed her name to several anti-abortion bills as well as a resolution dismissing the impeachment charges. And on Monday, she fired off a shot at one of her GOP colleagues who has been an outspoken Trump critic, bashing Sen. Mitt Romney via Trump’s preferred mode of communication: Twitter.

Romney “wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame,” she tweeted.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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