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Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., left, with her husband Jeffrey Sprecher, center, participates in a re-enactment of her swearing-in Monday Jan. 6, 2020, by Vice President Mike Pence in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

This story was updated Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at 9:50 p.m. with more information.

NASHVILLE — Georgia voters' first impressions are decidedly mixed about what they think of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's appointment of businesswoman and political novice Kelly Loeffler to the U.S. Senate, according to a new poll.

At the same time, a majority — 54% — say they think the first-term governor is doing a good job, according to the Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey of 625 registered voters, conducted Dec. 19-23.

The survey found 35% of those polled said they approved of the appointment of now-Sen. Loeffler, who was sworn into office on Monday. Another 29% of Georgians surveyed disapproved.

And a plurality of 36% of them said they weren't sure yet what they think of the appointment of Loeffler.

On Dec. 4, Kemp named Loeffler, CEO of the financial web platform Bakkt and a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA franchise, to fill the seat of Republican Senate veteran Johnny Isakson. Isakson stepped down citing health reasons.

 

The governor's decision roiled some Republicans who wanted him to name Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump who gained national exposure defending the president during House impeachment proceedings.

Loeffler is expected run for election later this year to fill the remainder of Isakson's term and could face Republican primary and general election opponents.

The Mason-Dixon survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Kemp's decision won higher approval among Republicans with 55% of them telling pollsters in live telephone interviews they approved of Loeffler's appointment.

Just 13% of Republicans said they disapproved of Loeffler's appointment. Another 32% of Republican respondents said they weren't sure.

Forty-three percent of Democrats said they disapproved of Loeffler's appointment with just 19% approving. Another 38% of Democrats said they aren't sure.

Thirty-one percent of independents said they approved of Kemp's decision at this juncture. Thirty-three percent said they did not. But a 36% plurality said they're not sure.

The margin of error in the smaller subcategories typically rises from the overall sample.

While Georgians are divided over Kemp's decision on Loeffler, more than half said they approve of how Kemp is doing in office so far.

Fifty-four percent said they approve of Kemp's job performance. Thirty-four percent said disapproved while 12% said they were unsure.

Most Republicans or 86% said they approved of the job Kemp is doing. And so did a slight majority of independents (53%). But 61% of Democrats said they disapprove of Kemp's job performance. And 65% of black voters disapproved while 68% of white voters said they approved of Kemp's job performance.

Overall, Kemp is rated higher by men, older voters and those living in Georgia's more rural regions. But women, younger voters and those in the Atlanta Metro area gave him lower ratings. Kemp was elected in November 2018, defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams by just under 55,000 votes.

Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon's CEO and managing director, said by phone that Kemp's appointment of Loeffler was controversial. The survey response was mixed with many saying of Loeffler they "don't know anything about that person," he noted.

He noted Collins had a high profile in national news coverage, particularly on Fox News, in the House battle over Trump's impeachment.

"Basically, Republican voters watch a lot of Fox News," Coker said, adding that if Collins decides to run, "I think he'd be the favorite" in the GOP's Senate primary.

Still, Coker noted, Loeffler has the opportunity to make more of an impression now that she's in office, especially with the expected Senate impeachment trial.

"I would think that between now and then you may have a removal vote in the Senate. She'll probably have the opportunity to go on the record, and I'd be surprised if she didn't vote to keep Trump in office, which, of course, would score a lot of votes with Republican voters," Coker said.

Moreover, "once you're in the Senate, you can do things to define yourself," Coker said. "Certainly there's a pretty sharp divide. I think if [Loeffler] falls within the majority of Republicans in the Senate, then she can kind of build off that and hope that gives her some bonafides to run on. But time will tell. That seat's interesting."

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

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