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Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., one of two Republican candidates who were defeated in Georgia's pivotal Senate runoff elections, arrives on Capitol Hill as the Senate returns to work, in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, a day before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

ATLANTA — Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is wading back into Georgia politics weeks after her runoff defeat with the start of a new voter registration group aimed at helping Republicans recover from the stunning Democratic victories in November and January.

The former financial executive framed the launch Monday of the Greater Georgia organization as a Republican answer to the powerful Fair Fight voting rights group that Stacey Abrams started days after her 2018 defeat in the race for governor.

In her first extensive interview since her Jan. 5 loss to Raphael Warnock, Loeffler said the group will focus on a trio of initiatives: Registering droves of likely conservative voters, building a network to promote "big tent" proposals and advocating for conservative electoral policies.

"It's the culmination of what I learned and what I saw firsthand in Georgia's biggest election in its history," she said of GOP losses in Georgia's November presidential election and the Senate runoffs. "You often learn more when you're not successful than when you are, and that's our starting point."

She also confirmed she was weighing a 2022 rematch against Warnock, the Democratic pastor who defeated her by roughly 93,000 votes out of nearly 4.5 million cast. Ex-U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who lost in the other Senate runoff, and former Loeffler GOP foe Doug Collins are both exploring bids as well.

The first part of Loeffler's initiative is an expensive and painstaking effort to reach the roughly 2 million Georgians she said are likely to vote for the GOP if they were mobilized. Loeffler said Democrats are far outpacing Republicans in new voter registrations, and the GOP risks slipping further behind.

Another tenet centers on shoring up ground-game infrastructure to amplify conservative messaging "clearly and consistently — not just in an election year." She said Democrats leveraged their robust grassroots advantage in the runoffs, while her campaign had to build an operation "from scratch."

"We always talk about wanting to have a big tent. We can't grow the tent if we take the tent down every two years," she said, adding that it would complement the state GOP. "Greater Georgia is designed to make sure that every campaign has access to a united resource that will help conservatives."

The third part aims to push conservative electoral policies as state lawmakers weigh a range of new voting restrictions after the GOP defeats. Loeffler said her group aims for "transparency and uniformity," such as endorsing a call for ID requirements for absentee ballots that critics say are unnecessary.

"We had unprecedented changes to our election laws in 2020 because of the pandemic. And we need to take a really hard look at the impact of those changes, and why it drove trust in our elections so far down."

In the interview, Loeffler wouldn't directly acknowledge former President Donald Trump's central role in eroding confidence in the vote. Trump and his allies relentlessly promoted false claims of systemic voter fraud and tried to overturn his election defeat.

Loeffler endorsed many of his falsehoods, including backing litigation that sought to invalidate Georgia's election and initially supporting the effort to formally challenge Biden's victory in Congress. She dropped her plans to contest the results shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"Well, I think the biggest thing that we can do right now, starting out, is to look forward," she said, citing a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that found most voters support a requirement to include a copy of their ID to cast a ballot by mail.

"What we have to do is look forward and say, OK, we know that there are certain safeguards that the majority of Georgians support."

Loeffler's initiative is designed to serve as a GOP counterweight to Fair Fight, the Abrams-backed juggernaut that has financed a vast grassroots network, pushed voting rights measures in court and at the statehouse, and promoted causes ranging from new transit funding to an expansion of Medicaid.

The group has also emerged as one of the most potent Democratic-allied PACs in the nation, raising roughly $100 million since Abrams launched it the same day she ended her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2018.

"Right now there is no answer on the Republican side to a comprehensive platform that provides the resources, the scale, the network, the message, the communications platform that we need for statewide success in 2022 and beyond," Loeffler said.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, chief executive of Fair Fight Action and a top Abrams aide, dismissed the new venture.

"If Kelly Loeffler wants to spend even more of her money on losing causes, she is free to do so," she said. "And she is free to appropriately name her group 'Unfair Fight.'"

Loeffler is a complicated messenger for a "big tent" philosophy. She was tapped by Gov. Brian Kemp in part because he hoped her business background could help the party appeal to more women who felt alienated by Trump.

But pulled to the right in the special election, Loeffler boasted of being more "conservative than Attila the Hun" and accepted the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, recently demoted for her hateful views.

In a recent interview, Kemp lamented that Loeffler couldn't run the campaign he envisioned because of "distractions." Loeffler said she now hoped to "bring my business experience, my political experience to be that voice for Georgians and make sure that they know that their voice is so important.

She didn't say how much of her substantial fortune she would put behind the group, though she said she's outlined her plans with a number of influential GOP donors and power-brokers.

"The one common thread from every call," she said, "is we need to have more voters, we need to have a bigger tent and we need to have election integrity. Those turned out to be the three tenants that were building this platform."

Loeffler was tapped by Kemp in 2019 to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, and she immediately spent much of the next year brawling with Collins, then a U.S. House member, over who was the more conservative lawmaker.

She defeated Collins by 6 points in a crowded November special election to square off against Warnock, one of two Senate runoffs that determined control of the chamber. In the second race, Jon Ossoff ousted Perdue for a full six-year term.

In all, Loeffler and her husband Jeff Sprecher, the chief executive of an Atlanta-based financial giant, pumped more than $31 million of their own fortune into the campaign. Pressed on the possibility of a comeback next year, she said "it's certainly on the table" but she's in no hurry to decide.

"Frankly, I think what we have to do is the work that I'm doing right now. I don't know if any Republican can win if we don't shore up what we're doing around voter registration, engagement and election integrity," she said.

"We have to make sure that Georgia's voters feel like their voice is being heard. We have to grow the party. And we have to make sure that we have the infrastructure for Republicans so they compete on the ground."

 

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