ATLANTA — First Martha McSally lost. Then Kelly Loeffler. And their failures might cost Republicans control of the Senate.
The two women were appointed by Republican governors to open Senate seats in Arizona and Georgia, respectively. The theory was that they'd be able to hold on to President Donald Trump's base while appealing to suburban women who were fleeing the GOP.
The strategy flopped.
McSally, who was appointed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey one month after losing a different Senate seat, was defeated by Democrat Mark Kelly in November. And Loeffler, who was appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and took office one year ago, was unseated by Democrat Raphael Warnock, a Black pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church here, NBC News projected early Wednesday morning.
The two women found themselves spending more time trying to earn the support of Trump's passionate base, with which they had little connection beyond party affiliation.
Far from giving them the space to reach out to suburban voters, who were decisive in Georgia's Atlanta area and in Arizona around Phoenix, it gave Democrats an opening to caricature them as pawns of the president and a party establishment that was using them.
"What the GOP does not seem to understand is that it is not as much about the messenger as it is about the message," said Jen Jordan, a Georgia state senator who represents the Atlanta area. "Women aren't dumb, and they are not going to overlook anti-woman, anti-family policies just because of who is pushing them."
Loeffler in particular faced such a threat in her 2020 race from GOP Rep. Doug Collins, who ran as the more pro-Trump figure, that she pitched herself as "more conservative than Attila the Hun."
Warnock portrayed Loeffler, a multi-millionaire who ranks as one of the wealthiest senators, as cynical and selfish, using her power to profit from the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Georgia, I am honored by the faith that you have shown in me," Warnock said in livestreamed remarks after the polls closed Tuesday. "And I promise you this tonight: I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election."
Trump campaigned for Loeffler and Georgia's other Republican in the runoff, David Perdue, on Monday evening in Dalton, in a largely rural northern region of Georgia. The race between Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff was rated by NBC News as too close to call.
If Democrats win both seats they'll capture control of the Senate.
Loeffler said she'll be heading to Washington Wednesday morning to "fight for this president." She has said she will object to the counting of electoral votes in Congress that would certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
"I'm asking for every single Georgian, every single American, stay in the fight with us. We are going to keep fighting for you," she said. "This is about protecting the American dream, I'm never going to stop fighting for this country, for the American dream."