To a midday crowd Thursday in Statesboro, former U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler explained the goals of Greater Georgia Action, a nonprofit corporation she founded in February, in terms of registering more right-leaning voters, getting them actively involved and assuring them that their votes count.
After brief opening remarks by District 4 state Sen. Billy Hickman, a fellow Republican, Loeffler took center stage under bright lights inside the Emma Kelly Theater, where she stood near a “Greater Georgia” banner emblazoned with the words, “Register. Engage. Protect.”
“Greater Georgia is premised on three things, and I’m going to flip the script about them a little bit, first of all starting with election integrity, because it turns out, the polling that we’ve done, that’s the number-one issue here in Georgia for conservatives,” Loeffler said.
After being appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to the seat vacated by retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, Loeffler served a little over one year in the U.S. Senate, until Jan. 20. Current Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, had defeated her in Georgia’s Jan. 5 special election runoff, and on the same ballot another Democrat, now Sen. Jon Ossoff, unseated Republican former Sen. David Perdue.
These races, which created a 50-50 partisan split of the Senate and gave Democrats slim control by the use of vice presidential tiebreaker votes, in effect became “a national election,” as Loeffler put it, through the media attention and campaign spending that poured into Georgia.
But the Jan. 5 turnout, although high for a runoff, was still lower than it had been in the Nov. 3 general election.
On “January 5th, 339,000 Republicans that voted November 3rd did not come back out because they didn’t believe their vote counted,” Loeffler said. “We have to address that.”
The second of the three Greater Georgia goals she outlined was voter registration, explicitly targeting potential conservative voters.
“We know that there are hundreds of thousands of unregistered conservatives in our state, and when you think about the margins of victory or loss, you know, they’re between 50,000 and 100,000 over the last two cycles,” Loeffler said. “So, to have 600,000 potential voters that are unregistered, we can’t let that stand.”
Her description of the margins of victory in the last two election cycles fits both of the Jan. 5 Republican U.S. Senate losses, as well as Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s less than 55,000-vote victory over Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams in 2018. But current President Joe Biden carried Georgia in the Nov. 3, 2020 election by an even narrower, under 12,000-vote margin over Republican former President Donald Trump.
“The third effort is to expand the party,” Loeffler said. “We cannot grow our party if we are taking down the tent after an election.”
In three decades as a business person, Loeffler has helped build many startup companies and worked in some Fortune 500 companies “and at no time after a (busy season) did we shut the business down and say, ‘We’re going to open again after it gets busy,’” she said.
But, implying that is what Georgia Republicans have been doing, Loeffler said Greater Georgia is taking the approach that a business takes if it wants to grow.
“I really took the approach to growing our party by making sure that under-represented groups were heard in our conservative movement, that the voices of minorities were heard, that we welcome more folks in and continue to grow the party,” she said.
It was a predominantly, and possibly entirely, white crowd of upwards of 100 people that filled the available seats of the theater at the Averitt Center for the Arts, where alternate rows were still taped off. A few people stood in one of the aisles along a wall.
In addition to Hickman, who is from Statesboro, state Sen. Max Burns, R-District 23, from Sylvania, and state Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Disrict 160, from Brooklet, attended and sat in the front row. Circling back to the “election integrity” topic, Loeffler thanked the state lawmakers for their work on Georgia Senate Bill 202, the controversial new law also entitled the Election Integrity Act.
“You guys got it done, you stood up to the heat of the national media that was full of misinformation, disinformation, intentional lies,” Loeffler said. “You have people like Stacey Abrams, Raphael Warnock, Joe Biden promoting lies about our election law that have now cost our state over $100 million with the loss of the MLB game.”
That was a reference to Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game out of Georgia, and the estimated economic impact.
“This is what happens when you send people to Washington who don’t believe in the sanctity of the vote, they believe in one-party rule,” Loeffler said.
But it was Trump and other Republicans who questioned the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election in Georgia and other hotly contested states where Trump lost, despite those results being affirmed by state election boards, secretaries of state and courts, which found no evidence of widespread fraud.
“I keep in touch regularly with President Trump, had dinner with him less than a month ago, I guess, and he appreciates the work we’re doing,” Loeffler said a little later in her remarks. “He understands how important Georgia is.”
After her stage presentation, the Statesboro Herald asked her if it wasn’t Trump’s rhetoric that turned off many Republican voters before the Jan. 5 runoff by creating the impression that their votes wouldn’t count.
“Here in Georgia we saw unprecedented changes to elections in 2020, and it started in spring with mass mailing of unsolicited absentee ballot requests,” Loeffler responded. “We saw ballot drop boxes spread across the state for the first time. Those are just a couple of the massive changes that we saw, and then we had 1.3 million Georgians vote by absentee ballot, about a tenfold increase in what normally would happen, while at the same time we’d changed our procedures for absentee ballots.
“So what we need to do is make sure that people trust in the voting process, that we protect the sanctity of the vote and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, and that’s what this effort’s about,” she said.
In answer to another question, she said Trump remains a positive force in the Republican Party as a “president who put America first” and “demonstrated that the America First policies worked to lift all Americans up.”
Answer to Abrams
During her remarks to the crowd, Loeffler blasted Stacey Abrams for opposing state voter ID requirements but recently supporting a national voter ID requirement as part of a compromise version of Democrat-proposed U.S. House Resolution 1.
But the Republican former senator acknowledged Abrams’ left-leaning Fair Fight operation and its organizing ability as a spur for what Loeffler hopes to do with Greater Georgia.
“Now, Fair Fight is a voter registration operation, and voter mobilization, and I saw it firsthand in our election,” she said. “We built the largest team that had ever been built in a statewide election. We had a thousand employees and then about 3,000 volunteers. Well on the left, they had 3,000 employees and thousands more volunteers, because they organized.
“So, I said, why can’t we organize around our elections?” Loeffler said. “So that’s the first thing. We have to organize. We have to be better organized.”
Offstage, she confirmed that she has “left the door open for further public service” and hasn’t ruled out running against Warnock next year. But for now, her focus is on the Greater Georgia goals, she said.