ACU backs Doug Collins over Kelly Loeffler in GOP fight over Georgia Senate seat

Francheska Chambers | Mcclatchy DC

ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp told McClatchy in an interview that Collins’ history of support for conservative principles and Loeffler’s pandemic stock sales were factors in the endorsement.

Schlapp said that Collins’ defense of President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial and concerns that Democrats will use the procedure to try to remove Trump from office again also played heavily in the group’s decision-making.

“This is not a time for a rookie. This is a time for somebody who’s ready for the fight,” Schlapp said.

The endorsement provides a needed boost to Collins after months of curtailed campaigning due to the spread of the coronavirus. While it is largely symbolic, and does not come with any money attached, the endorsement from the group that puts on the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will send a signal to the group’s activists that they should give their financial support to Collins.

Activists who live in Georgia, where ACU held a regional CPAC conference last year, will receive a targeted email this morning announcing the endorsement. ACU also plans to push out the endorsement on its social media accounts.

While Loeffler has had a bumpy tenure in the U.S. Senate since she was appointed in January to fill the seat of a Republican senator who retired, she retains the support of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the influential anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. The wealthiest Member of Congress, she has a significant cash advantage over Collins and has committed to contributing $20 million of her own money to her campaign.

The sale of more than $1 million in stocks by Loeffler and her husband earlier this year after a closed-door briefing for senators on COVID-19 had some Republicans calling for Loeffler to drop out of the Senate race to give Collins a better chance of beating Democrats who are competing for the seat. Federal authorities have since closed their investigation into Loeffler, who denied any wrongdoing, with no recommendation of charges.

Schlapp told McClatchy that the stock sales are a “legitimate” issue for voters of Georgia to consider.

“She committed, from our standpoint, a major infraction. It was a failure to grasp that her immense personal wealth should be at play when you’re trying to figure out the steps that the government should take in light of the outbreak of corona,” he said.

The ACU chairman said the primary consideration in the endorsement of Collins was the long-standing relationship that the group has with the four-term Republican congressman.

Collins, in a statement to McClatchy, said he was hopeful ACU’s endorsement would inspire additional conservatives and Republicans to come forward with support.

“Matt Schlapp and ACU are my friends and it’s a friendship forged by sharing a foxhole in many battles for conservative principles,” he said. “They know me and what I hold dear and that makes their support all the more special to me. ACU is a leader and a bellwether in the conservative movement and I think their endorsement will lead to many more friends standing up to be counted in this campaign.”

Collins is challenging Loeffler for the Senate seat she received through an appointment by Georgia’s governor last year after Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson retired early.

Candidates from both parties competing for the Senate seat will be on the same ballot in November. If no one candidate wins a majority of votes, the race will go to a runoff between the top two vote-getters in January.

In the unusual election, both of Georgia’s Senate seats will be up for a vote at the same time, alongside the presidential election. Republican Sen. David Perdue is competing for reelection to the other Georgia Senate seat, which he currently holds.

President Trump is backing incumbent Perdue but has declined to publicly endorse either candidate in the special election.

Schlapp is married to senior Trump campaign adviser and former Trump White House official Mercedes Schlapp.

ACU is largely known for hosting CPAC—an annual mass gathering of activists on the right side of the political spectrum. The event has grown in considerable size and scope since Trump took office, with members of the Trump family and the president himself speaking at the three-day conference held in February just outside Washington.

Collins was a speaker at this year’s event. Loeffler was not invited to speak, Schlapp previously told McClatchy, prompting speculation that the Republican congressman would get ACU’s endorsement.

At the 2020 CPAC gathering, ACU’s foundation gave Collins a lifetime achievement award for his rating of 87.82 on ACU’s score chart as of 2019. Loeffler does not have an annual ACU rating, having taken office after the vote-scoring group released its last tally.