Former Georgia Sen. David Perdue’s decision not to run for Senate again in 2022 will now likely shift the focus to two other Republicans weighing bids: former Sen. Kelly Loeffler and former Rep. Doug Collins.
Perdue had been expected to clear the GOP field to take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock had he run. A handful of Georgia Republicans strategists said Monday that if Perdue passed, the other top possible GOP candidates were Loeffler and Collins, who faced off in the 2020 special Senate election
“Because David, Kelly and Doug were all U.S. Senate candidates last cycle, I think those are the names that people are looking at, and rightfully so,” Chip Lake, a GOP strategist in Georgia who worked with Collins, said prior to Perdue’s Tuesday morning announcement that he would not run for Senate.
Collins, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, was Loeffler’s chief opponent on the right in last year’s special election, in which candidates from all parties ran on the same ballot for the final two years of former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. Loeffler, who was appointed to Isakson’s seat after he resigned for health reasons, and Warnock advanced to the Jan. 5 runoff, which Warnock won by 2 points.
With Warnock running for a full Senate term next year, Republicans see the traditionally GOP-leaning state as a top pickup opportunity in their effort to win back the Senate. But Georgia has become more competitive in recent election cycles. Joe Biden carried the state by less than half a percentage point in November, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the Peach State since 1992.
Asked about Perdue’s decision not to run, Warnock told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday, “I am prepared to defeat whatever Republican they come up with.”
Prior to Perdue’s announcement, both Loeffler and Collins had said they were considering running for Senate.
Loeffler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that another Senate run was “certainly on the table.” She launched a new group this week called “Greater Georgia” that will focus on registering voters, expanding existing voter outreach and advocating to “instill transparency and uniformity in our election process,” according to a press release.
Last week, Collins told the Journal-Constitution that he was considering either a Senate run or a primary challenge to Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, whom Trump reportedly wants to see defeated since Kemp did not go along with the former president’s false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Some Georgia Republicans are concerned about a divisive primary ahead of the 2022 race, particularly after Loeffler and Collins’ bitter battle last year that left Warnock unscathed ahead of the first round in November.
“I don’t know that Republicans are going to have an appetite for a big fight,” said Jay Williams, who worked for the super PAC Georgia United Victory, which backed Loeffler.
Lake said that if Perdue, Loeffler and Collins all pass on running for Senate, Republicans could then welcome “a second-tier dynamic of candidates that could make it a very competitive and very deep primary.”
Perdue wrote in an email to supporters Tuesday that he would still work to help Republicans win back the Senate seat in 2022.
“This is a personal decision, not a political one,” he said. “I am confident that whoever wins the Republican Primary next year will defeat the Democrat candidate in the General election for this seat, and I will do everything I can to make that happen.”
In a three-person race in November, Perdue got 49.7 percent of the vote to Democrat Jon Ossoff’s 48 percent but did not clear the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff. Ossoff beat Perdue by about 1 point in the Jan. 5 runoff.