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Clemons: Don’t count Hice out of Senate race
David Clemons

With the release of an email by staffers in Washington on Wednesday morning, Georgia’s political scene became even more turbulent than we knew it would be with a high-profile Senate race on the ballot next year.

Now we’ll have two, and one will be a ridiculously strange “jungle primary” format.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, a well-respected Republican statesman from Marietta, announced he will step down at the end of the year, midway through his third term, due to ongoing health concerns.

I wish him the best. I’ve never heard anyone speak ill of our senior senator, even those whose politics are starkly opposed to his.

Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Lithonia, noted Isakson’s 30-year stretch of attending the Martin Luther King Jr. services at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, despite often tense times.

Now the big parlor game in our state is guessing, first, whom Gov. Brian Kemp will choose to fill the Senate seat after Isakson’s resignation Dec. 31, and then who might run for the remaining years in the term.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggested a few big names in Georgia politics, among them Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Attorney General Chris Carr,  congressmen Doug Collins and Tom Graves, former Rep. Karen Handel — haven’t we seen this show enough? — and U.S. Attorney BJay Pak on the Republican side, along with Democrats like Jason Carter, Michelle Nunn, Jon Ossoff — see Handel, Karen, above — Sally Quillian Yates and the Ebenezer pastor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Allow me to add one more name for consideration: eastern Newton County’s own congressman, Rep. Jody Hice.

I’ve not seen his name pop up anywhere among the “contender lists,” but that doesn’t mean much of anything. And when I’ve asked him and his staff, all have said the right things.

“As you know, Sen. Isakson has been a faithful public servant for many years, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his service,” Hice wrote me when I texted him Wednesday to ask if he’s considering running for the seat.

“Gov. Kemp will soon face the difficult task of making an appointment to replace the Senator. I’m confident that he will choose someone who he believes best represents Georgia. There will be no ‘running’ to replace Sen. Isakson; the decision will be made solely by Gov. Kemp.”

My follow-up was to ask if he’d be soliciting the governor for the appointment, or running in the special election.

No response.

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it doesn’t not necessarily mean anything, if you catch my drift.

Hice has worked to build his profile during his three terms in Congress, especially over the past few months with the GOP in the House minority. He’s been on Fox News, launched a podcast to explain positions of the hard-right Freedom Caucus and joined President Donald Trump in taking members of the progressive “Squad” to task, especially Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

He’s also got nearly unanimous support in Walton, where the annual GOP barbecue is a really big deal on the state political scene.

I suspect Hice would fare poorly in the politically moderating suburbs where there seems to be a good deal of Trump fatigue, but that didn’t keep Kemp from winning last November.

Don’t be stunned if we’re talking about Hice for Senate this time next year.

David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Walton Tribune. He was the publisher of the Covington News from 2017-18. His email address is Twitter: @scoopclemons.