Perdue said in a statement that his decision “is a personal one, not a political one,” and he made the call “after much prayer and reflection.”
“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,” Perdue said.
Perdue’s announcement kick-starts what may be a crowded Republican primary, whose winner will face Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael G. Warnock. The early maneuverings in one of the country’s newest swing states could foreshadow a fraught struggle between Republican candidates allied with Trump and those who would like to see the party move beyond the former president’s divisive rhetoric.
Perdue, a 71-year-old former CEO, competed in a tight race against Jon Ossoff in 2020, losing to Ossoff in one of the state’s two closely watched Senate runoffs on Jan. 5. Warnock won the other; his term expires in January 2023.
The two races were hypercompetitive, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance. Democrats’ historic upsets marked a repudiation of Trump, who narrowly lost the state to President Biden in the November election.
Now, with a wide-open field and Republicans desperate to win back one of the state’s Senate seats — and control of the chamber — Georgia Republicans are seeking a candidate who can be competitive in the primary and general election.
Party strategists considered Perdue a formidable candidate and perhaps the favorite to win the upcoming primary, with the name recognition and fundraising boost that comes from participating in the most expensive congressional election ever.
But Perdue had sent mixed signals about whether he was interested in reentering the fray. Last week, he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, the first act in launching a campaign. He said then he wanted to “continue to keep all options open.”
He also took a step that has become key for Republicans seeking national office: a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago. He traveled to Trump’s private club last week and met with the former president for dinner and golf, said one person briefed on their get-together, who, like others in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private matters.
The two men get along well, but Perdue was reportedly disturbed by Trump’s lack of focus on helping Republicans in 2022 and by his desire to exact revenge on party members he deemed insufficiently loyal, a person with knowledge of Perdue’s thinking said. Perdue feared Trump would create a difficult climate, the person said.
During his Senate campaign and his time in the chamber, Perdue was an ardent booster of Trump. He refused to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory, often parroted Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud and lambasted his state’s Republican leaders, who defended the election as fair and legitimate. He also drew criticism for echoing Trump’s racist rhetoric on the campaign trail, when he repeatedly mocked the pronunciation of Vice President Harris’s first name.
Republicans in the state said Perdue probably would have had Trump’s support, giving him an advantage in the primary because the former president still holds significant sway among the party’s base there.
Brian Robinson, a longtime Republican political consultant in Georgia, said Perdue’s decision was not a shock, given the arduous election cycle he just finished.
“Most Senate races have probably captured the attention of their states, but ours was not just national, it was international,” Robinson said. “There was $800 million spent, and I just don’t know that there’s a lot of fight left after all that.”
Perdue would have been “the odds-on favorite,” Robinson added, but he would have had to approach his primary campaign in much the same way as former senator Kelly Loeffler, who ran to the right in the special election but lost to Warnock in the runoff. This time around, Perdue wouldn’t be spared a primary, a luxury he had as the incumbent in 2020.
“He would be robbed of that advantage in 2022,” Robinson said.
The early list of potential candidates is still coming into focus, but it includes Loeffler and former representative Douglas A. Collins, who both told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they’re considering runs, along with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who defended the state’s leaders against Trump’s baseless accusations.
Lawrence “Lane” Flynn, chair of the DeKalb County Republican Party, said he now expects to see candidates from both of the GOP’s feuding factions — those still aligned with Trump and those who want to move on from his pugilistic politics and focus on issues like lower taxes and infrastructure.
“I would say the base right now, the people most likely to vote in the primary, are more likely to support a Trump-like candidate,” Flynn said. “But we’ve seen that’s problematic, especially around Atlanta, in the general election.”
Flynn’s suburban Atlanta county has grown more diverse and less receptive to Republican messaging, and he has argued for years that his party should try to win back voters in his area instead of focusing its energy in rural majority-White parts of the state.
“I don’t like losing, so I would like to see a candidate who is able to and wants to connect with the Republican base we have lost in the last few cycles, who are more interested in economics and not necessarily the big red meat issues,” Flynn said.
Nationally, Republicans say they’re still confident they’ll win the seat, pointing to the results of past midterm elections, which have tended to favor the party that lost the prior presidential election.
One senior Republican Senate operative said he didn’t know why Perdue chose not to run but said he’s “supremely confident that we’re going to have a good crop of candidates, emerge with a great nominee, and that we’re going to win the seat.”
Without citing specific candidates, he said there are multiple people among the names already floated who would win.
“I think there’s enough talent in Georgia to put up a serious fight in an election that’s going to be favorable for Republicans,” he said.
But still, he added, “it’s so stinking early.”