ATLANTA — Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia will not launch a comeback bid next year, clearing the way for other Republicans to enter what could be a crowded 2022 race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Perdue announced the decision Tuesday, just eight days after filing campaign paperwork exploring a challenge against Warnock, who won a Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff against Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler.

“This is a personal decision, not a political one,” he said in an email to supporters. “I am confident 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.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported earlier this month that Perdue was considering another Senate run, essentially freezing the field until he made up his mind. His aides said he was seriously considering a comeback, though many political insiders were skeptical.

Other Republicans are now clear to move forward with their plans. Loeffler, who announced she was creating a GOP voting registration group on Monday, said in an interview that she is considering a run.

So is her Republican archrival, Doug Collins, a former U.S. House member who told the AJC he was weighing a run for the Senate or a primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp. Collins finished in third-place in the free-for-all November special election, losing to Loeffler by about 6 percentage points.

Perdue was narrowly defeated by Democrat Jon Ossoff in a Jan. 5 runoff, part of a Democratic sweep that also lifted Warnock over Loeffler to fill the remaining two years on retired Republican Johnny Isakson’s term. Their upset victories flipped control of the Senate, giving Democrats a narrow edge in a 50-50 chamber with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker.

A former Fortune 500 executive, Perdue was probably the only candidate who could scare off other well-known Republican challengers in 2022, when Warnock is up for a full six-year term that will test how decisively Georgia has shifted to the left. Kemp is also running for reelection and is widely expected to face Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Perdue would have entered the race with advantages, including roughly $5 million in campaign cash remaining in his bank account, sky-high name recognition after the nationally watched runoffs and a close alliance with former President Donald Trump, who still remains popular among state Republicans even amid eroding poll numbers.

But people close to Perdue also stressed that he didn’t relish the campaign trail and would be happy in retirement at his Sea Island estate. And even some of his closest allies were surprised he floated the idea. One said Perdue wanted to keep “all options open” in case, another said Perdue was wary of another grueling race dominated by Trump.

Perdue trekked to Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Friday to play golf with the former president, according to people with direct knowledge who said Trump spent much of their time together railing against Republicans he claimed didn’t do more to overturn his defeat.

The people said the meeting didn’t factor into Perdue’s decision, noting that he was already unlikely to commit to a campaign.

In his note to supporters, Perdue maintained that “Georgia is not a blue state” because he amassed more votes in November than Ossoff, who he still hasn’t acknowledged by name since his defeat.

And he called on state lawmakers to “correct the inequities in our states laws and election rules,” echoing false claims of widespread voter fraud that he and other Georgia Republicans promoted during the nine-week runoff campaign.

Along with Loeffler and Collins, several other Republicans could join the fray. The list of potential contenders includes Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Attorney General Chris Carr, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and attorney Randy Evans, a former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg with ties to Trump.

Warnock will be a formidable foe. Georgia’s first Black senator, Warnock is the senior pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, holding the historic pulpit where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. As a first-time candidate, Warnock defeated Loeffler by roughly 93,000 votes out of nearly 4.5 million cast.

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©2021 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

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