The GOP Majority Hangs in the Balance; Georgia Is Ground Zero


  • May 15, 2020
  • 6 min read

Collins Still the One to Beat

One of the key seats Republicans need to win to keep the majority is held by new Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R). The race is one of the more interesting, and unusual.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) appointed the mega-wealthy businesswoman to replace venerable Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), who resigned last year due to health reasons. The thought was Loeffler could benefit the GOP ticket because she could connect with suburban women voters, a cohort which many believe will over-perform for Democrats this fall, and where Republicans performed poorly in the midterm election.

Many conservatives had encouraged the Governor to appoint U. S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) to fill Isakson’s seat. Collins did yeoman’s work on the House Judiciary Committee, defending President Trump in the impeachment Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) were pushing through the House. Collins was a reliable and solid conservative voice in support of Trump and was the President’s choice for the Senate.

Instead, Gov. Kemp turned to Loeffler, ostensibly because of her appeal to the female vote. An underlying reason, and perhaps the more important one, is she and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, could throw millions into the campaign and to boost the Georgia Republican Party, its allies, and consultants. Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and serves as chairman and CEO for the online Intercontinental Stock Exchange.

Taking the seat in January, Sen. Loeffler looks like a likely loser in a convoluted system that, ironically, Kemp cobbled together to benefit her.

It would have made sense to simply run the special election to fill the balance of Sen. Isakson’s final term concurrently with the existing 2020 election schedule. There would have been a partisan Republican primary, and a Democratic one, followed by the General in November.

Instead, Governor Kemp decided to schedule a “jungle” primary on November 3rd, which is election day. All candidates for the Senate seat, from whatever party, will appear on the same ballot. If any receives an outright majority, they’ll be elected. If no one reaches the majority plateau, which is likely, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff election January 5, 2021.

Mr. Kemp did not want a partisan primary. The only plausible explanation would be that he feared that his preferred candidate, Loeffler, would lose to Rep. Collins. The Congressman has earned the respect of a lot of voters through his consistent support of the President and developed a strong conservative base throughout Georgia.

Now, we need to consider the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on all of this. The virus has not been kind to Loeffler, and it isn’t because she doesn’t look good in a mask. Rather, while most of America was trying to figure out how to stay safe, healthy, and alive, it appears the Senator and her husband saw the pandemic as a way to make money.

They reportedly executed a series of stock transactions involving companies that would be directly affected by the virus. All of this happened shortly after Sen. Loeffler received preliminary Senate briefings on the effects of COVID as the disease was evolving in China. And it happened before most of America had begun to focus.

Loeffler says she did nothing wrong. She says she doesn’t make decisions on her own stock transactions, ceding them to an investment advisor. Yet, one way or another, they moved millions of dollars out of companies that could lose big when the disease hit, and into companies that might benefit. The couple also reportedly bought into a company that makes special gowns that would be effective in protecting against the disease.

While the moves are financial winners, they are political losers. Her explanation for executing the profitable series of transactions seems to be falling on deaf ears. In any event, even if Loeffler is being truthful when she says she knew nothing about the trades, when a multi-millionaire claims ignorance as a defense it doesn’t build up a lot of warm feelings with most voters.

With the FBI stepping up their investigation of North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R) for similar transactions, though not nearly the size of Sen. Loeffler’s dealings, the story is not likely to go away. Senator Loeffler will have to devise a more credible explanation.

This week, Loeffler’s pollster, Public Opinion Strategies, unveiled a new Georgia poll that contains troubling trends for Republicans in general except, oddly, Sen. Loeffler.

Loeffler had previously dropped as low as fourth place in other polls, trailing Rep. Collins by 2:1, while Collins led all candidates. The POS study shows Loeffler in second place, just one point behind Collins. Almost as perplexingly, all other recent polling finds Collins running between 29 and 36% of overall preferences. Yet, the Loeffler poll has Collins dropping ten points, nearly overnight, and leading by only a single digit.

The pollsters released little about their methodology and supportive data. Sometimes, public opinion changes dramatically and rapidly. It does happen. Moreover, some polls are just “outliers.” But a look at the data on the ballot test question suggests the poll may not be accurate.

Polls are useful as snapshots but, when their findings vary widely from all other available data, cross tabs, toplines and the actual verbiage is crucial to analyzing the conclusions. In other the words, a poll needs to make sense. Since much of this data was missing from the POS polling memo (see attached), released by the campaign, it’s tough to defend their results.

The POS poll does not make sense when considered in light of other available data. The POS survey was taken just days after a survey by the nationally- known and well-respected Axios organization, and it found wildly different data. Loeffler’s poll was also taken before her most recent TV ad buy could have had an impact.

It was also taken before Loeffler aides leaked to Fox News that they believed that ”time is running out for her to reverse a narrative that could lead to her defeat” and they were considering a “Hail Mary” strategy of asking the SEC to somehow clear her name. These do not sound like points that would be made by a confident campaign or one tied in their own polls.

Put another way, it sounds like Loeffler’s campaign doesn’t believe their own poll. At best, they are not acting like a campaign that is hitting on all cylinders.

Looking at the racial demographics of the 500-person sample in the POS poll, taken May 4-7, it is a fairly accurate reflection of the state, although Hispanics and Asians are underrepresented. But the partisan breakdown is seriously flawed.

In the POS sample, 42% of the respondents are Republicans and 41% are Democrats. Another 16% are Independents. Additionally, the female population base in the state is 51.4% statewide, but they comprise over 53% of respondents in this poll. Again, a relatively small number, but one that would benefit Kelly Loeffler most likely above any of the other candidates.

Georgia is one of 19 states where voters don’t register by political party, so it is impossible to tell exactly how many people identify as Republican, Democrat, or Independent. The electorate has certainly voted Republican, however, in much higher numbers than the survey indicates.

Since current U. S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was first elected Governor in 2002, defeating incumbent Roy Barnes (D), Republicans have won 42 statewide races and lost only eight. Is it reasonable to believe this reflects only a one-point Republican advantage?

A more accurate view of the electorate might see Republicans around the 42 mark, but the Democrats lower than 41, and Independents higher than 16. Such a segmentation would be more consistent with southern and national voter trends as well.

Additionally, while the POS poll sample is short on respondents, thus increasing the error rate, it also lacks benchmark questions. There are no job approval questions reported for President Trump, Gov. Kemp, Sen. David Perdue (R), who is also on the ballot this year, and Loeffler. If Loeffler had favorable ratings, it probably would be reported. In the wake of the very unfavorable coverage of Loeffler’s stock trades, it seems unlikely her approval ratings would look good compared to others on the ballot.

Polling, media spinning, and statistics are a part of political campaigns, and will be as long as we have elections. The Kelly Loeffler team, however, is still fighting an uphill battle. Whatever poll you look at, it is likely the numbers on her own POS study do not present a full and accurate portrait of the race.

Loeffler is in the unfortunate situation of trying to recover from wounds that are self-inflicted. This would be a difficult challenge for anyone, but even more so for an incumbent senator who has never won an election. It may not be possible for Senator Loeffler to recover. As of today, in the Georgia U. S. Senate special election, Rep. Doug Collins is still the man to beat.

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