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Columns Tom Baxter

With Trump looming overhead, Loeffler and Perdue ponder their future in politics

By Tom Baxter

With a couple of successful business careers and only one winning election between the two of them, and considering their stinging losses in last month’s U.S. Senate elections, one might think David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler would have had enough of politics. But in the past few days both have flirted with the idea of getting back in the game.

Last week, Perdue filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to raise money for a 2022 race against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in the Jan. 5 special election.

This could have been as much business as politics. Perdue still has $5 million left over from his race against U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, and filing with the FEC simply would “allow me to keep all options open,” as he said in a statement.

However he viewed it, Perdue was not long in shutting the door he’d cracked open, sending an email to his supporters that he’d decided, for reasons that were personal, not political, not to run.

There was one political development during his brief entry in the 2022 race which might have influenced him just a tad, however.

Loeffler, Perdue’s 2020 tag team partner, is also thinking about running again in 2022, but in the meantime she has launched Greater Georgia, in conscious imitation of Fair Fight, the organization Stacey Abrams founded shortly after her defeat in the 2018 governor’s race and turned into a political powerhouse. Loeffler is said to be putting something north of a million of her own money into the new initiative.

Democrats are going to howl at the idea of an organization which simultaneously advocates registering more voters and “reaching more communities” while also supporting restrictive voting measures like those being considered in the General Assembly as “building greater confidence in our electoral process.” But if Loeffler has adopted some of Abrams’ language, she isn’t after the same electorate.

What Loeffler has most in mind are the conservative Donald Trump voters who voted in the November election but didn’t show up on Jan. 5. She’s not only trying to recruit new Republican voters, which will be harder to do after the big turnout last year, but get last year’s new, Trump-inspired voters into the habit of voting Republican. Greater Georgia seems intended to evoke Make America Great Again.

How that goes will depend in part on what Trump has to say Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, his first speech since leaving the White House.

Revenge on those he thinks let him down is said to be much on the former president’s mind these days, and if Trump decides to play Sherman in the 2022 Republican primaries, burning down everything in his path, Georgia would be where he’d start.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Doug Collins in Orlando Sunday. Trump has invoked his name as a primary opponent to Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022, but since everybody else is keeping their options open, we can assume Collins is, too.

If Collins challenges Kemp, and another Republican takes on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the 2022 GOP primary, where would Greater Georgia, founded to build a bigger tent and inspire “greater confidence in the electoral system,” go? As much as it’s supposed to be about growing the party, Greater Georgia’s first priority may have to be keeping those in the party from shooting at each other.

There are polls out currently which show a big chunk of the Republican electorate, more than 40 percent, would support a Trump Party if it split from the GOP. That may be the sentiment, but it remains to be seen how that would play out in a state, like Georgia, where Republicans hold a lot of state offices and legislative majorities.

The Republican incumbents in these states have the most to lose in a party-wide crackup, and they are like to be a pragmatic as opposed to an ideologically conservative force against any radical restructuring of the party.

But for a while longer, we won’t know what lasting influence Trump is going to have on the GOP. And Republican candidates throwing their hats in the ring won’t be quite sure in which direction to aim.

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Tom Baxter

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 Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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