ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to fill Johnny Isakson’s unexpired U.S. Senate term.
After a last-minute application submission and weeks of social media feuds within the Republican Party, Kemp on Wednesday announced that Loeffler will take over Isakson’s seat starting Jan. 1. Isakson is retiring due to health reasons.
The choice deviated from President Donald Trump’s preference of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville to fill the position. Trump advocated for Collins in multiple instances during the past few months, including being featured at a fundraiser for the Republican in his hometown.
In her first address to Georgians on Wednesday, Loeffler said she is pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-wall and pro-Trump.
“Not every strong woman in America is a liberal,” she said. “Many of us are conservatives. And proud of it.”
Loeffler said she strongly opposes the impeachment proceedings against Trump and looks forward to working with him in Washington to continue to strengthen the economy and create jobs.
Kemp highlighted Loeffler as a “political outsider,” likening her to Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Ivanka Trump and the president himself.
"We have seen firsthand the impact that political outsiders like Donald Trump and David Perdue have in Washington, D.C.,” Kemp said. “It is time to send them reinforcements so we can keep America great."
Kemp said Loeffler is a champion of the “American dream” and noted her dedication to her “faith and conviction.”
“She knows that Washington is fundamentally broken,” he said. “She knows that we need to drain the swamp. She knows — as our soon to be senior Sen. David Perdue says — the road to socialism will not run through Georgia.”
Kemp said Loeffler will “champion the pro-life cause” and strengthen immigration laws.
Loeffler will be the second woman in Georgia history to serve in the U.S. Senate. Although a political rookie, she is no stranger to the GOP. Loeffler and her husband are frequent donors, including $75,000 to the Republican National Committee last February and a $100,000 donation to participate in Trump’s November roundtable in Atlanta.
Loeffler is the chief executive officer of Bakkt, a bitcoin exchange company, and co-owner of Atlanta’s WNBA franchise. She also serves on the board of directors of Georgia Power and Grady Memorial Hospital.
In her application submitted to Kemp’s office she described herself as a “lifelong Republican” who “grew up working on her family corn and soy bean farm.”
If selected, she wrote in her cover letter, she would be a loyal Trump and Perdue ally.
“Together,” Loeffler said, “we will grow jobs, strengthen the border, shut down drug cartels and human traffickers, lower health-care costs and protect our national interests — at home and abroad.”
Loeffler — who was raised on a farm in Illinois — said she will stand up for free trade and make sure “all farmers, workers have fair treatment under our trade laws."
Backlash from the GOP
Loeffler’s appointment hasn’t gone unquestioned.
First reported by The Wall Street Journal, Trump held a secretive meeting at the White House last week with Kemp and Loeffler where Kemp pushed Loeffler as his preferred pick. It was reported that “the private huddle turned tense and ended quickly,” according to The Wall Street Journal report.
When asked about the pushback, Loeffler said the criticism gave her no second thoughts and she wants to “fight socialism side-by-side with President Trump.”
“I am here on the condition of my beliefs and the greatness of America and I want to protect that,” Loeffler said. “I am going to fight very hard not just for Georgians but for Americans and the ideals that have made us great.”
Loeffler said she will defend her position in a special election next year — Collins, who has garnered the national spotlight from his performance during the impeachment probe, has not ruled out making a run for the Senate.
“Now is a great opportunity to really seek the truth and the facts and learn about the real Kelly Loeffler,” Kemp said. “There’s been a lot of political agendas from Washington, D.C., and New York, but this is about putting Georgians first. This is why I made this pick. And now I just urge everyone who’s been clamoring to settle down.”
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said Loeffler will be successful if she follows in Isakson’s footprints — taking her business experience in Georgia to Washington.
“I think we should be unified and rally around Kelly. The only way for Republicans to win in 2020 and beyond is if we come together,” Carr said, “I think once folks get to know Kelly and who she is, she is really someone we can rally around.”
Kemp faced scrutiny from the start of his online application process for the seat. He said the system was to ensure an “open and transparent appointment process.”
Kemp called the process “unconventional” and “unorthodox” but ultimately successful. He said he had no short-list or candidate in mind when he opened his office to a flood gate of Senate applications. The office received more than 500 applications, with Loeffler’s rolling in as the deadline closed for submissions.
When news began to leak of Loeffler’s appointment, GOP leaders took to social media to express disappointment, while Kemp’s aides blasted back. The tweets were met with a storm from Kemp’s staff.
But Kemp said the party needs to fight together, and he would not send someone to D.C. who didn’t uphold conservative Georgia values.
“There is one thing I know for certain,” Kemp said, “when it comes to making significant reforms, and that is this: We are better and stronger together.”
Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.