Kemp expected to pick newcomer to succeed Isakson in Senate

FILE-In this Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011 file photo, Mary Brock, right, and Kelly Loeffler cheer from their courtside seats as the Atlanta Dream basketball team plays in the second half of their WNBA basketball game, in Atlanta. Republican donor and financial services executive Loeffler tapped by Georgia governor Kemp for U.S. Senate seat as three-term Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down because of health issues. (AP Photo/David Tulis, File) (Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA, GA – Georgia’s governor is expected to appoint a wealthy business executive to replace an outgoing U.S. senator, according to a GOP political consultant, bypassing President Donald Trump’s preferred pick and betting instead that a moderate woman can garner enough support to hold onto the seat next year.

Brian Kemp’s choice of Kelly Loeffler, a political newcomer, defies fellow Republicans who had pushed him to choose Rep. Doug Collins, one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress. Loeffler will fill the seat of retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down because of health issues.

The consultant spoke Monday to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because Kemp has yet to publicly announce the decision, which comes after weeks of speculation over his choice for a Senate seat Democrats are hoping to win in 2020.

Trump made clear that he preferred Collins to Loeffler but he has resigned himself to the pick, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Loeffler, co-owner of the Atlanta Dream professional woman’s basketball franchise, will have to defend the seat next November as Republicans battle to maintain control of the Senate and the White House.

Collins has publicly left open the door to running against her.

Loeffler is the CEO of financial services firm Bakkt, which offers a regulated market for Bitcoin. She was previously an executive at Intercontinental Exchange, a behemoth founded by her husband that owns the New York Stock Exchange. Bakkt is a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange.

The Senate seat will be up for grabs again in November 2020 in an open-to-all special election for the final two years of Isakson’s term. Also on the ballot will be Republican Sen. David Perdue, another vocal Trump defender. With both of Georgia’s GOP-held Senate seats on the ballot alongside Trump in 2020, the race is raising the state’s profile as a political battleground where Republicans still dominate but Democrats have made substantial inroads in recent elections.