(Updated)- North Georgia Congressman Doug Collins said Wednesday morning that he’ll enter a special election for the U.S. Senate, saying he’s the best candidate to support President Donald Trump’s agenda. In an appearance just after 7 a.m. on Fox News, Collins dismissed concerns about a possible rift in Georgia’s Republican Party.
Collins’ entrance into the race will pit him against Atlanta businesswoman Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat by Governor Brian Kemp last month.
Collins’s decision to not seek re-election to the U.S. House, where he has served since 2013 leaves that field wide open. A number of candidates are expected to enter the race to replace Collins. State Sen. John Wilkinson of Toccoa was the first to announce his candidacy Wednesday morning within minutes of Collins’ TV appearance. “This is a critical time for our country, and we need an experienced, conservative voice willing to stand up for the values that residents of North Georgia hold dear,” Wilkinson said in a news release.
A native of Toccoa and graduate of Stephens County High School, Wilkinson earned degrees in agriculture and education from the University of Georgia. He has experience as a classroom teacher and served on the State Agricultural Education staff for 26 years. He has served as State Advisor to the Georgia FFA Association, as well as the Georgia Young Farmer Association. He was recognized as the Outstanding Member of the National Association of Supervisors of Agricultural Education in 2006. He and his wife Debbie have two children and five grandchildren. John and Debbie are active members of Tates Creek Baptist Church.
The 9th Congressional District includes all of Banks, Dawson, Elbert, Fannin, Franklin, Gilmer, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Jackson, Lumpkin, Madison, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, White and parts of Clarke, Forsyth and Pickens counties.
Other possible candidates for the congressional seat include former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, who lives in Towns County, State Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville and state Rep. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega. The U.S. Senate race is a special election, meaning all candidates from all parties will run in a single election, set for November 3rd.
Some Republicans have expressed their concern that such a scenario could split the Republican vote and help a Democrat make a runoff or win the seat outright. The state House Governmental Affairs Committee approved a measure Tuesday that would force a partisan primary election in May. The winners from the Democratic and Republican primaries would then face each other in November. The full House will take up the measure soon. But Kemp has vowed to veto it.