By Tom Baxter

This year, when you sit down to watch the bowl games or the Christmas shows, you won’t have to worry about your children being frightened by scary black-and-white attack ads.

Cherish that. It may not be that way next year.

Amid all the drama surrounding Gov. Brian Kemp’s U.S. Senate selection, not much attention has been paid to the calendar for next year’s election, which will be a huge factor in the race.

The 1992 Senate runoff between Paul Coverdell and Wyche Fowler was held on Nov. 24. The 2008 runoff between Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin was on Dec. 2. But due to changes that have been made in order to accommodate military and other overseas voters, any runoffs following the Nov. 3, 2020 election will be held on Jan. 5, 2021.

The previous two runoffs happened because a Libertarian candidate kept the incumbent from winning a thin majority in the general election. Kemp’s appointee will be running next Nov. 3 in a nonpartisan primary, under circumstances which make a runoff very likely.

Kemp is sticking with his choice of businesswoman Kelly Loeffler, a decision he’s expected to announce formally on Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, President Trump’s choice, is still showing signs of running, and Kemp’s announcement of his choice will likely precipitate more interest by Democrats. Throw a Libertarian in the pot for seasoning, and you have all the ingredients for a runoff. With Sen. David Perdue defending his seat, there’s even a possibility of two Senate runoffs, although that seems far-fetched.

A runoff campaign that stretches 64 days, past Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day all the way into 2021, would be a spendarama for the ages. Loeffler’s financial resources could be important in such an expensive campaign. That is the sort of thing Kemp, a former secretary of state, might have considered when making his choice.

Trump reportedly rejected Loeffler face-to-face when Kemp took her on an unannounced trip to the White House in an effort to win the president over. This isn’t the first time the president has differed with a governor over the choice of a woman Senate candidate.

Last year, fearing she was vulnerable in a similar jungle primary situation, the White House tried to intervene in Mississippi Gov. Ted Bryant’s choice of the state agriculture commissioner, Cindy Hyde-Smith, to fill former Sen. Thad Cochran’s seat. Trump wanted Bryant to appoint himself or the lieutenant governor to the seat, but Bryant, saying the decision was “mine and mine alone,” stuck with Hyde-Smith.

Hyde-Smith ignored the rejection and proclaimed full-fledged support for Trump, easily dispatching her conservative Republican rival in the first phase of that jungle primary. Trump ended up campaigning for her in her runoff against Democrat Mike Espy after she drew criticism for a joking remark about a “public hanging.”

Could something like this happen in Georgia? It’s an understatement to say stranger things have happened. Loeffler has already pledged full support for Trump and conservative causes in general, in the face of attacks for such heresies as membership on the Grady Hospital board. It’s more complicated than the Mississippi situation because Trump and his allies have openly pushed Collins, but if she were to end up in a runoff with a Democrat, we might easily see Trump campaigning for her.

What if Loeffler and Collins end up in a runoff? Then things get really complicated. Does Trump continue to support Collins, knowing that if he miscalculates, Loeffler will have a vote in his impeachment trial? Does Kemp stick to his guns, even in a head-on-head matchup between Republicans?

If there was any doubt what was Kemp was going to do this week, it was erased by the coordinated campaign, in and out of state, to bully him into accepting Collins as his choice. Kemp has stood above the fray, but allowed his staff to needle U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz into total clownishness. After a Kemp aide mocked him on Twitter for wearing “acid-washed jean shorts,” the Florida congressman took the time over the Thanksgiving weekend to reply.

“PS — I adamantly deny wearing jean shorts or anything acid-washed after 1998, but that isn’t the real point,” Gaetz tweeted. “I do own some jeans on the tighter side, which is nothing to be ashamed about.”

By the way, under Georgia’s residency requirements, Gaetz could move a few miles and just make it into the 2022 Senate race, if he chooses to get even more involved.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.