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Republican businesswoman Kelly Loeffler, who will soon be Georgia's next U.S. senator, speaks to reporters at the Port of Savannah on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, in Savannah, Georgia. Loeffler is scheduled to be sworn in when the Senate convenes Monday, Jan. 6 in Washington. She was chosen by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the seat of GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who left office at the end of 2019 because of health problems. (AP Photo/Russ Bynum)

NASHVILLE — Georgia politics are getting shaken by departures before voters cast their first ballots in 2020.

As planned, Republican Johnny Isakson stepped down New Year's Eve from the U.S. Senate seat he's held since 2015, citing health issues.

On Monday, financial executive Kelly Loeffler, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to replace Isakson, will be sworn in as senator by Vice President Mike Pence, The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported.

Loeffler plans to run for election and may face opposition in the May 19 GOP primary. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, who had a high-profile role in opposing the House's impeachment of President Donald Trump, is weighing a bid.

On another front, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger announced just last month he won't seek re-election to the seat he first won a decade ago. Graves' departure could trigger an avalanche of ambition in the 14th Congressional District, which includes Catoosa, Dade, Walker and Whitfield counties south of the Tennessee border.

Graves hasn't said whether he will run for U.S. Senate.

Also retiring is Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, who squeaked through his 2018 re-election battle with Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 433 votes. She's running again but faces competition in the Democratic primary in the Gwinnett County-centered district.

In yet another development, congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, a Democrat, recently announced he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Besides the special election to fill Isakson's former Senate seat, there's another Senate race on the November ballot as Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue seeks a second six-year term.

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who in 2018 lost the governor's general election to Republican Brian Kemp by just under 55,000 votes, said she won't run against Perdue. But in a state where once-reliable GOP suburban voters have shown a willingness to vote for the other party, Democrat and former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has announced. Other Democrats might be tempted to jump in, too.

One thing that's different in Georgia in the 2020 cycle is when the presidential primaries are held. Georgia is no longer holding the election on March 3, "Super Tuesday." Instead, voters will cast ballots on March 24.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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