Everybody in the pool: Georgia flush with Senate hopefuls

ATLANTA (AP) — An up-and-coming GOP congressman is angling for a Senate appointment. A former congressman has hinted he's interested, too. The list of Democrats quietly mulling over a bid include a congresswoman and members of the state legislature. Then there's the Democratic mayor, former mayor, former congressional candidate and former candidate for lieutenant governor who've declared they're running for another Senate seat.

View all (2)

If you're interested, Georgia's governor is now taking applications online.

A Senate retirement has set off a frenzy in Georgia politics, where two U.S. Senate seats will be up for grabs in 2020. Democrats are hungry for a big win and nearly every major political player in the state is thinking about his or her next move.

The scramble underscores Georgia's new high-profile place on the political map.

Democrats believe the state is their best hope for breaking the GOP's hold on the Deep South in 2020. National groups were already plotting to spend big with the hopes of pulling off a coup and unseating Sen. David Perdue, who's up for re-election. Sen. Johnny Isakson's retirement , opening a second Senate race, ensured the state's status as a must-watch battleground. The candidates nominated by both parties are likely to become national figures and could determine the direction of the state for years to come.

"It's really an exciting time in Georgia politics," said Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint. "It was already going to be an important state — getting to be near the status of swing state, like North Carolina, for example — but with the other U.S. Senate seat open unexpectedly, that just catapults Georgia into a really important column."

The next big break will come from Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who will get to appoint a replacement for three-term Isakson in the coming months. Kemp on Tuesday announced a webpage where interested people can apply online and asked "all Georgians who want to serve in the U.S. Senate to submit their name and qualifications." Kemp's office says that, for the sake of transparency, submissions will be made public. That will force office seekers interested in the appointment to publically declare it in short order.

Kemp's appointee will serve for roughly 10 months before needing to defend the seat in a November 2020 special election -- joining President Donald Trump on the ballot. In still-red Georgia, which hasn't elected a Democratic governor or U.S. senator in nearly two decades, that's an appealing prospect for many Republicans.

Rep. Doug Collins, who has emerged as one of Trump's chief defenders in Congress through his role as the top Republican on the House Judiciary panel, has expressed interest in the position.

Asked if he had any interest, former congressman and 2014 Senate candidate Jack Kingston replied: "I guess you would say I'm always interested in helping the state of Georgia."

Other potential Republican prospects include U.S. Rep. Tom Graves and statewide officers like Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Attorney General Chris Carr.

While Kemp has been largely silent on his deliberations, Republican strategists say that whoever he picks will likely be someone that has proven name recognition and can raise money quickly.

"There just aren't many with the political network, campaigning ability, fundraising network that you're going to need in a sprint this short," Brian Robinson, a Republican political adviser in Georgia, said. "And that's why I think the list of people who are going to be seriously considered is very short."

There's also the question of whether Kemp will choose a conservative fighter, like himself, who can help turn out the base, or a more moderate candidate that might help attract swing voters in areas Republicans have struggled in recent election cycles, like metro Atlanta.

State Democrats, faced with the possibility of having several candidates running against each other in the wide-open race for Isakson's seat, are trying to organize and rally behind a single candidate. Last week, they held a number of closed-door meetings with national party leaders to vet potential candidates.

None have announced plans to run yet, but Rep. Lucy McBath, a gun-control advocate who last year upset an incumbent Republican to win her suburban Atlanta U.S. House seat, is considering a bid. So is state Sen. Jen Jordan, who gained attention earlier this year fighting against a new Georgia law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

"You're not seeing the normal kind of, folks just jumping in," Jordan said, "because I think folks really want to make sure that whomever this person is that emerges as the Democratic candidate is someone that everybody can get behind at the end of the day. And that can not only win in November, but — if there is a runoff — win a runoff. And then come back two years later and be able to hold the seat."

DeKalb County chief executive and 2010 Democratic Senate candidate Michael Thurmond said he is exploring his options. Other names floated as potential candidates include DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, state Rep. Scott Holcomb, and 2014 Senate candidate Michelle Nunn.

Notably, though, the biggest name in Georgia Democratic politics says she isn't interested.

Stacey Abrams, who became a breakout political star championing voting rights during her narrow 2018 loss to Kemp for Georgia governor, has said she won't run. Abrams' spokesman told The Associated Press that she has no plans to make an endorsement, but said she "is committed to doing everything she can" to help Democrats win in 2020.

A handful of Democrats are already committed to running for Georgia's other Senate seat against Perdue, who is seeking his second full term in November 2020. They are former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, 2018 candidate for Georgia Lt. Gov. Sarah Riggs Amico, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry.

"Georgia Democrats are committed to ensuring that our party is strong for next fall's candidates, and we are working with stakeholders to make sure that we are in the best possible position to win," said Scott Hogan, executive director of the state party.