Georgia county stirs controversy by holding pseudo-Senate election

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A lone county in Northwest Georgia is trying to play kingmaker in the contentious Senate race between GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and GOP Rep. Doug Collins to the annoyance of some Republicans.

Floyd County, about an hour north of Atlanta, is taking the unusual step of asking GOP primary voters during the May 19 election to pick their favorite candidate for the U.S. Senate in an effort to gauge the support of Loeffler and Collins.

The result is not official, but more of a poll conducted by ballot. The county GOP officials make the case that whoever can win in red Floyd County will have the momentum and a better case to emerge as the winning GOP candidate in the November election.

"I think we have the equivalent of the Iowa Caucus for a presidential campaign," said David Guldenschuh, correspondence secretary at the Floyd County GOP, which is behind the effort.


The state of Georgia is not having a primary election for this U.S. Senate seat, but rather a wild "jungle" election in November where all Republican and Democratic candidates will be on the ballot. The top two finishers – presumably one Republican and one Democrat – will then head to a run-off election. The GOP establishment already is worried the internal Republican battle could hurt them in this system. They don't want more attention on the race and have even attacked Collins for entering.

Yet Georgia is having primary elections throughout the state on May 19 for other offices. For instance, voters in Floyd County will pick their nominee for an open congressional seat in the 14th Congressional District, for the county sheriff and more. Since the base of the GOP will already be at the polls, Floyd County hopes that Collins and Loeffler will campaign there before the primary and seek to win the non-binding Senate preference election.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins are competing in November's jungle primary election to be the GOP choice for Senate in Georgia.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins are competing in November's jungle primary election to be the GOP choice for Senate in Georgia.

“Since this will be the first actual test of the candidates on the ballot, I think this gives both campaigns an opportunity to come to a really evenly balanced county and if they're able to win here, to have one step of an advantage over the other candidate for the remainder of the campaign," Guldenschuh said.

Floyd is the only county among Georgia's 159 counties that is asking a Senate preference question, according to the Georgia Secretary of State's Office.

The rogue move was met with grumbles in Washington, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have put their support behind Loeffler, the incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp appointed in December to fill out the term for retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

Critics, requesting anonymity, downplayed the effort as a glorified straw poll that has no bearing on the overall Senate race. And unlike an Iowa caucus, no one has launched a Senate campaign building it around winning a non-binding county event, they said.

Both campaigns said they'll be working hard to win over voters all throughout Georgia, including Floyd County.


Collins' campaign had wanted a primary election statewide, but Kemp threatened to veto legislation that would have created one. Now, Collins' team has expressed support for Floyd County's move.

"The whole state could be doing that if the governor weren't trying to protect Kelly Loeffler from Republican voters," said Dan McLagan, Collins' campaign spokesman.

Collins, who is under a temporary coronavirus self-quarantine, is scheduled to attend a meet and greet event in Floyd's county seat, Rome, next Thursday. Loeffler has already campaigned in Floyd.

“Kelly Loeffler is a political outsider and conservative businesswoman who is delivering results for Georgia families," said Loeffler spokesman Stephen Lawson. "She is working hard to earn the support of voters in Floyd County and all 159 counties across the state on the way to a big win in November.”

There will be four questions before Floyd GOP primary voters that will require a "yes" or "no" response on the May 19 ballot.

The first is: "In the upcoming November 2020 election for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by gubernatorial appointee, Kelly Loeffler, are you more likely than not going to vote for Sen. Kelly Loeffler?"

The next two questions use similar language but ask if they are more likely than not to vote for Collins or "another candidate." The fourth question asks voters if they are undecided.


Guldenschuh, from the Floyd County GOP, said the two Georgia Senate races (Republican Sen. David Perdue is up for reelection in November, too) are vital to control of the Senate majority and will be second only to the presidential race in terms of importance.

"By giving our local Republican voters the opportunity to express their preference at this point, it makes that vote all the more important to set the table for the upcoming fall election," he said.