WASHINGTON — Representative Doug Collins, the face of President Trump’s impeachment defense in the House, is quietly jockeying to persuade Georgia’s Republican governor to appoint him to the state’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat, according to interviews with Republican lawmakers, aides and political operatives.
Mr. Collins is moving swiftly. Just a week after Senator Johnny Isakson, a fellow Republican, unexpectedly announced that he would retire at year’s end, Mr. Collins has emerged as one of the most serious contenders among a dozen or so Republicans thought to be interested in the position.
Under Georgia rules, Governor Brian Kemp can appoint a temporary replacement for Mr. Isakson this year and call for a special election in November 2020 to complete the final two years of Mr. Isakson’s term.
Mr. Collins’s allies in Washington and Georgia are privately making the case that, as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, he has the national profile and fund-raising prowess to hold the seat against what is expected to be energized and well-funded Democratic challenges in 2020 and again in 2022. And Mr. Collins himself has placed calls stating his interest in the seat to Mr. Kemp and to Mr. Trump, a potentially powerful ally who could sway the governor’s thinking, according to people familiar with the calls.
A Senate appointment would not only elevate Mr. Collins, 53, to an influential perch but also set off a cascade of openings in House leadership that could empower some of the president’s best-known conservative allies, including Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina.
Allies have pointed to the pugnacious Mr. Jordan as a natural choice to replace Mr. Collins in the top Judiciary position. If he were to get the slot — which requires the blessing of Republican leaders — Mr. Meadows could then ascend to Mr. Jordan’s position as the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, another battleground where Democrats are aggressively investigating Mr. Trump.
Another Republican ally of both men, Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas, could also get a look for the top Judiciary job. Mr. Trump said this summer that he would nominate Mr. Ratcliffe as his next director of national intelligence but quickly dropped him from consideration amid questions from senators of both parties about his qualifications.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Collins declined to comment, but he publicly indicated interest in the seat during an interview with Fox News last week, just a day after Mr. Isakson announced that he would resign because of health issues.
“To be considered for that — I’m humbled by folks who are considering that — it is something I would look at,” Mr. Collins said. “But right now we’re focused on the fact that Johnny is such a leader in Georgia and how we go forward. The groundwork he has laid has made Georgia much, much better.”
He has been more purposeful behind the scenes, fellow lawmakers and Republican strategists in Georgia said. But neither Mr. Collins nor others interested in the Senate appointment are likely to take their efforts public until Mr. Kemp outlines what he is looking for in a replacement for Mr. Isakson. The governor has until December to fill the seat, and a person familiar with his thinking said he intends to more clearly lay out a timeline for the decision after the threat of Hurricane Dorian passes the state.
With Democrats eager to try to flip at least one of the state’s Senate seats, Republicans and political strategists in the state believe Mr. Kemp will be looking to appoint someone who is ready to run two expensive races in quick succession and can help the party ticket statewide.
“Governor Kemp has a really tough decision to make,” said Heath Garrett, a former top aide to Mr. Isakson and a political strategist in the state. “Senator Isakson and his team are going to be very respectful of that decision. Not only is he picking somebody to run in 2020 but picking what is close to being a running mate in 2022.”
Mr. Collins is not the only House member whose name is circulating. Representative Tom Graves, who has represented northwest Georgia since 2010, is thought to be a serious contender, as is Karen Handel, a one-term congresswoman who narrowly lost a suburban Atlanta seat last fall. Mr. Graves has also spoken with Mr. Kemp and begun quietly gauging support around the state, according to a congressional aide familiar with Georgia politics.
Potential candidates among current and former statewide office holders include Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, state Attorney General Chris Carr and Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor who now serves as Mr. Trump’s agriculture secretary.
Close watchers of Georgia politics have also speculated that Mr. Kemp could aim to broaden the Republican coalition in the Atlanta suburbs, where Mr. Trump and Mr. Kemp underperformed compared with past Republicans, by appointing someone other than a white man. Possibilities include Harold D. Melton, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, who is black; BJay Pak, the United States attorney for Northern Georgia and a former state representative who is of Korean descent; and Kelly Loeffler, a business executive who considered a Senate bid in 2013.
Mr. Collins has served in the House since 2013 and ascended to the top Republican position on the Judiciary Committee in January. The position has dramatically boosted his public profile, securing him a recurring slot on Fox News and the first word for his party in high-stakes hearings convened by Democrats on the findings of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as they try to build a case for impeachment.
Mr. Collins, a former pastor and lawyer, has made no secret that he prefers legislating over partisan oversight fights — he played an important role in crafting a bipartisan compromise to change federal prison and sentencing laws last year, for instance. But he has also had no problem antagonizing Democrats with his defense of Mr. Trump and his criticisms of their investigations as a “circus” designed to distract from more pressing policy issues.
“Unfortunately for Democrats, we don’t have a constitutional crisis in this country,” Mr. Collins said during a hearing in July. “Special Counsel Mueller found there was no collusion with Russia, and did not conclude there was obstruction — of an offense that didn’t occur in the first place.”
Few Republicans have doubts Mr. Collins would be able to raise money at levels needed to be competitive, but political strategists said the right candidate may also have to demonstrate how they can add to the Republican ticket statewide, a potential challenge for Mr. Collins who represents a rural, solidly conservative part of the state.