The only Jewish candidate among 20 running to complete the Senate term of now-retired Republican Johnny Isakson is being urged to drop out — by other Jewish Georgians.
If Matt Lieberman once felt he was being overlooked, he now finds himself receiving unwelcome attention. More than 500 Jewish Georgians placed their names on an ad imploring Jewish voters to “unite behind a single candidate – Rev. Raphael Warnock – the only Democrat with a real chance to win.”
It is just one more unusual turn in an unusual race.
When Isakson stepped down in December citing health issues, two years remained in his six-year term. Gov. Brian Kemp appointed businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to serve until the November election, reportedly bypassing President Donald Trump’s choice, Republican Rep. Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th Congressional District.
The race often is referred to as a “jungle primary” because candidates from all parties will be listed on one ballot. There will be 21 names on the ballot, though one has withdrawn. If no candidate wins a majority, the top two candidates will advance to a Jan. 5 runoff.
Lieberman was the first to enter the race and was encouraged by his early polling numbers. Loeffler and Collins topped the polls for many weeks, but recent surveys, including the well-regarded Quinnipiac University Poll, have placed Warnock, pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta, among the leaders. Lieberman has trailed in fourth place in these polls.
Lieberman has rejected calls that he withdraw to improve Warnock’s chances. “Of the top four candidates, I am the only candidate that wasn’t put here by some power broker,” Lieberman told the Atlanta Jewish Times. He argues that Collins received the nod from Trump, Loeffler was put in office by Kemp, and Warnock was chosen by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“This is the people’s Senate seat; it’s not given by someone else. When I’m senator, I won’t be beholden to Kemp, Trump or Schumer. I respect Schumer, but smart people make mistakes. I’ve been running since October ,” he said.
Lieberman believes that he has a better chance winning in the likely runoff than Warnock. “The Republican candidates are clobbering each other to get as far right as they can. They are so out of step with most Georgians,” he said.
According to the ad signed by hundreds of Jewish Georgians, “the race is so close that the votes of Jewish Georgians alone could make the difference.”
Lieberman, on the other hand, points out that “the Jewish community is statistically small. It’s hard from polling to conclude anything. The undecideds will probably look over everyone.” There are few undecided Republicans and “most of the undecideds are Democrats or Independents, and when pushed, they will break to me,” he said.
“We are targeting the undecideds. We can target our messages and advertising precisely through digital ads. We’re running a smart, tactical, almost Israeli-style operation,” Lieberman said. “We have enough money to get the job done [despite] having the least amount of money in the bank of the top four contenders.”
As of the June 30 quarterly deadline for reporting campaign finances, Loeffler had $7 million cash on hand; Warnock, nearly $2.9 million; Collins, $2.6 million, and Lieberman a bit more than $300,000.
Lieberman describes himself as a “lawyer by training,” but also a small businessman and educator. He’s probably best known in the Jewish community for heading the former Greenfield Hebrew Academy – which merged with Yeshiva Atlanta and became the Atlanta Jewish Academy – from 2005 to 2007.
“I am not a professional politician,” the Yale-educated Lieberman said. “I’m running as an outsider but one who can hit the ground running. I had a great role model growing up,” he added, referring to his father, former Connecticut senator and 2000 vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.
“I’m running because I’m fed up, like most people,” he said. “We’re sick of politicians who just go to Washington and play a game. We want to get something done.”
The issues he’s running on are similar to most Democratic candidates: a public option for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, women’s reproductive rights, gun safety and the environment. “Issue by issue, we would fall in line with [former Vice President Joe] Biden,” the Democratic nominee for president. Lieberman calls these “kitchen table issues.”
Addressing the controversy that broke this summer about his debut novel, “Lucius,” Lieberman dismissed those concerns. People criticized without even reading the self-published novel about the relationship between an elderly white Southern man and his young imaginary slave.
“Warnock’s top supporters used it [the book] as a political football to try to divide Georgia by race. They tried to accuse me of being a racist, but I know who I am. This is what is disgusting about politics, this invoking of racism. It’s baseless and keeps us from talking about police reform and universal health care. It’s all a side show using race for politically divisive purposes. It’s the worst of American politics,” stressed Lieberman.
Speaking directly to the Atlanta Jewish community, Lieberman states, “You have a candidate that’s a member of the Atlanta Jewish community, a proud member of our community and who holds our heritage strong, and I will be a strong defender of the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel.”
- Matt Leiberman
- Raphael Warnock
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Brian Kemp
- Kelly Loeffler
- Donald Trump
- Doug Collins
- Chuck Schumer
- atlanta jewish academy
- Joe Biden
- Jewish Georgians
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
- Atlanta Jewish Times
- Yeshiva Atlanta
- Affordable Care Act
- oting rights
- women’s reproductive rights
- gun safety
- kitchen table issues