Georgia’s New US Senator Kelly Loeffler Talks Capitol Hill, Campaign Trail
Sen. Kelly Loeffler is probably the least-known, highest profile politician in Georgia right now.
The financial services executive and Republican donor was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the seat opened up by Sen. Johnny Isakson’s retirement at the end of 2019.
A political newcomer, she has quickly jumped into life in Washington and on the road stumping for votes in Georgia.
On Friday morning, Loefller called GPB News to discuss her transition, how she plans to convince Georgians to vote for her and why she wanted to run for elected office.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Stephen Fowler: I know you've been introducing yourself to a lot of people, a lot of places over the last few months. Are you back in the state today?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler: That's right, I'm back in the state today. I landed late last night. I thank Delta for that on-time arrival! And I was able to get up this morning and am driving up to Dalton, Georgia, in my Georgia-built Kia.
Fowler: Why did you want to leave a very lucrative, successful private sector career and enter into politics in such a pivotal and chaotic time?
Loeffler: Well Stephen, I'm glad you asked that question. You're right, I've been in the private sector for the entirety of my career. I haven't spent my career trying to get to Washington.
But certainly where I am today is a long way from where I started. I was born and raised on a farm and worked my way up through business and really have lived the American dream.
And I saw what was happening in our country, the fight between freedom and socialism. And I felt, you know, I could help with the fight for freedom for what we have in America, and to support the president's agenda and also come in and help grow our party. And I felt very strongly about that.
So I was willing to put my application in and am truly humbled and honored to serve our state.
Fowler: Tell me a little bit about what it's been like to adapt to the Senate… what's it been like being thrown into this legislative body?
Loeffler: Well, that's a great characterization. And you're right, joining the Senate at any point in history is certainly a significant feeling in terms of being responsible for the direction of our country.
But at a time like this… when I joined, the second day we had a classified briefing on the takeout of [Iranian General Qasim] Suleimani, the world's most destructive terrorist, and then it went right into impeachment and we had deep dialogue about the Constitution and the importance of the separation of powers in our country and what it meant to elect a president.
So I had a quick introduction to the importance of the Senate, the focus on supporting and defending the Constitution.
And since then, we got past impeachment, we acquitted the president and now have turned to getting back to work for the American people, and starting to focus on things like health care and things that matter in their everyday lives.
So it's been a great introduction. And I'm really hitting the ground running.
Fowler: So on the other side, you also have had to throw yourself into campaigning to keep your job. You're having to introduce yourself to literally the entire state. What's it been like trying to prepare yourself for running this campaign?
Loeffler: I knew as soon as I was appointed to the to the role that I would need to get around the state, and I started doing that back in December. I have not stopped moving around the state to not only introduce myself to Georgians, to make sure that they know exactly who I am and why I'm there, but also, most importantly, that I hear from Georgians.
What's important to them, what's on their mind, what are their concerns?
And as I go around the state, the more I learn, the more I see why it's important to be an outsider in Washington.
It wasn't long ago throughout my career where, not only have I been a job creator, but also I was a job seeker. I was paying the rent, paying my student loan, paying my car loan and worried about health care or that next job.
So I know exactly what it's like to be in the shoes of Georgians and expecting that things in Washington won't get in the way of the work to be done at home, because all the good work happens here. So my focus in my campaign is making sure I convey that.
And I'm really proud of the positive campaign that we're running, and the expansive effort that we've been able to attract and the tremendous support I have from the grassroots to new, new folks looking at our race and being excited about it.
Fowler: Touching on the positive nature of the campaign... Democrats feel that a Democrat should be the senator from Georgia, but did you expect to be attacked and have every facet of your life blown up and put into ads so quickly after stepping into office?
Loeffler: You know, I've been around politics in terms of supporting our party over the last decade, and I expected it. I think that's part of public service… You come in eyes wide open, I'm not focused on that.
However, I knew that was part of the sacrifice I'd make.I am so convicted that what we're doing is so important to keep the Senate, to keep this seat and to grow our party. I'm willing to make those sacrifices.
And look, I know what’s true. I know these attacks are not.
So I'm really focused on Georgians and doing what I know is right.
Fowler: Given the nature of your race, you won’t have one opponent. Right now you're going to have at least five.
Many of them have records and policy platforms that they've built up for years. How do you plan on differentiating yourself beyond just being the one currently in the office to make sure people know what you stand for and what you hope to accomplish?
Loeffler: I am quickly establishing a track record of votes that people can see my record. They can see the legislation I've signed onto, whether it's pro-life votes this week in the Senate, supporting USMCA, signing onto legislation to block funding to states that support illegal immigration and making sure that we're protecting the freedoms in America while supporting the strong economy.
So people are seeing quickly through my actions that I'm up there working for them and they're going to see in my campaign that as an outsider to Washington, I'm one of a few prominent outsiders that have come in and made a difference in Georgian's lives.
Like President Trump, he's an outsider to politics. He came into the presidency and within three years, despite significant obstruction, has made a difference for our country beyond measure. Similarly, Senator David Perdue has done a fantastic job as an outsider to politics in Washington.
So Georgians want more of that. And I think I have a lot of support in that regard.
Fowler: Most politicians that are in elected office don't necessarily have the life experiences that the average Georgian has or the average person in our country has.
How do you plan on showing people that you are somebody they can relate to and somebody that they can turn to? For now, you're being painted as kind of a wealthy insider who’s ready to buy her way into Congress.
Loeffler: Yeah, I think that couldn't be further from the truth. I mean, where I came from is who I am today.
I was born and raised on a family farm in Illinois. Grew up working in the fields. Waitressed my way through high school and college. Moved around the country to build my career as a single woman.
I’m self-made, have broken the glass ceiling both in in business and in sports. I own the WNBA Atlanta Dream with a business partner.
So I think people will quickly, as they get to know me, understand that I have lived that life.
I was fortunate to be successful later in life. I wish for all Americans to live the American dream that I lived. And that's what I'm up there fighting for.
And certainly I can relate to that teenage girl growing up on a farm or teenage boy growing up in the suburbs wanting to make it or that inner city kid in Atlanta that wants a better life. That was me. And I lived it going through public school, taking chances, investing in myself through education.
I want to protect that for all Americans.
Fowler: Do you think people are treating your office and your campaign differently because you're a woman?
Loeffler: Look, I’ve broken barriers in business, broken the glass ceiling in sports by owning a sports team.
But I can tell you what I'm focused on is serving Georgians.
I'm going to be proud to be the first woman elected to the Senate in Georgia ever in our history in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote.
My focus is on serving all Georgians. And I'm really inspired by the stories I see as I go across this state and being able to do the work I've done to secure additional funding for our port and Savannah, to see the good work that has been done in our state.
These are the things I'm focused on, and having a positive campaign that grows our party.
Fowler: What's one kind of challenge that you didn't anticipate going into this? Something that you've had to tackle and work through to keep up with the pace of life in Washington and Georgia”
Loeffler: I think that the challenge we as senators will always have to stay on top of is the very dynamic environment that we need to be able to respond to while staying in touch with the needs of our constituents around our state.
For example, shifting between issues like Coronavirus and fighting terrorism and managing impeachment. And making sure that we're focused on the folks at home and not getting too far away from the issues that matter in their everyday lives like health care, the cost of prescription drugs and surprise billing.
And it’s making sure that the priority is always based on what folks at home need us to do in Washington while we manage through the politics of things as well, and not getting too wrapped up in politics.
It's managing through a lot of the prioritization. And you know, there's only 24 hours in a day. But I'm learning to use them very efficiently.