Updated Monday at 4:35 p.m.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp plans to appoint Kelly Loeffler on Wednesday as the state’s next U.S. senator, effective Jan. 1, according to two sources with knowledge of Kemp’s decision.
The businesswoman and Republican donor will fill the seat held by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who plans to retire Dec. 31 for health reasons.
The reported choice, which is set to be officially announced Wednesday, comes despite strong pushback against Kemp and Loeffler herself. Kemp has been targeted by prominent conservatives who supported President Trump’s reported pick for the Senate seat, Republican Georgia Rep. Doug Collins.
Related: Who Is Kelly Loeffler, Rumored A Likely Senate Pick? >>
Loeffler’s conservative stances have been questioned as well. Mark Levin, conservative talk show host referred to her as a “RINO” or “Republican in name only” on Sunday.
One of Kemp’s most vocal critics over the weekend was close Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who said Kemp was “ignoring” President Trump because “you THINK you know better than @POTUS.” Another Trump confidante, Fox News personality Sean Hannity, also endorsed Collins last week.
Kemp’s director of communications Candice Broce fired back at Gaetz directly, calling him “oddly submissive to #TheSwamp” and said the appointment was Kemp’s to make independently. Kemp’s adviser and former campaign communications director Ryan Mahoney wrote: “mind your own business. We don’t know you and we don’t care what you think.”
Loeffler is a wealthy businesswoman without political experience. The CEO of Bakkt, a bitcoin-focused subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange Inc. (ICE) casts herself as a “lifelong Republican” and tells a personal narrative of working her way up the corporate ladder from her family’s farm in rural Illinois.
She has faced backlash in the last week from some of Georgia’s conservative political community for past donations to Mitt Romney and ties to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who did legal work for the WNBA team Loeffler co-owns, the Atlanta Dream.
It all comes after an online application process Kemp opened in September. She submitted her resume on the day of the deadline.
Loeffler’s company offers a regulated market for bitcoin trading, and its parent company ICE owns and operates commodity and financial market exchanges, including the New York Stock Exchange. Loeffler previously worked as ICE’s chief communications and marketing officer and is married to its founder and CEO, Jeff Sprecher.
She grew up on her family’s corn and soybean farm in Illinois and wrote in her cover letter to Kemp that “From working on the family farm to creating jobs and opportunity in the business world, I have been blessed to live the American Dream. I am offering myself to serve hardworking Georgians as a political outsider in the United States Senate to protect that dream for everyone.”
“If our country is to embrace the conservative values that made America great, women must play a key role in that dialogue,” she said in 2013 to a group of the Georgia Federation of Republican Women. “This is where our voices are needed.”
If appointed, Loeffler will face reelection in November in an open race, without party primaries.
Rep. Collins was noncommital when asked Sunday on Fox News whether he would run against Loeffler in the November election saying, “that’ll be a decision that we’ll have to make at that point.” Collins is the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and is also playing a prominent role as one of Trump’s defenders in Congress.
2020 is set to be a big political year for Georgia. Buoyed by rapidly changing demographics, Democrats believe they have a chance to win the state for the first time since 1992. In addition, both of Georgia’s Senate seats are on the ballot in November. Sen. David Perdue, also a Republican, is defending his seat. At least four major Democratic candidates are vying in the primary to challenge him.