(Bloomberg) -- David Perdue, the Georgia Republican who lost his U.S. Senate seat earlier this year to Democrat Jon Ossoff,  will enter the race for governor as Donald Trump’s favorite, according to several media reports. 

His decision sets up a bitter intraparty battle to earn the GOP nomination and face the likely Democrat nominee, Stacey Abrams, in the November 2022 general election. The contest reflects a national debate about how much loyalty Republicans must show to the former president and his false assertions that the 2020 election was stolen from him. 

Perdue, a 71-year-old Georgia native, resident of an affluent coastal community and former business executive, will take on incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp. Trump has said that Kemp should have changed the outcome of last year’s presidential voting results in the state, and openly pushed Perdue to enter the race.

It’s all setting up Georgia to play a pivotal, swing role in next year’s midterm elections. The state, once a bastion of segregation, has become a center of Black economic and political power and chose a Democrat for president for the first time in decades last year. After Trump’s loss, Republicans in exurban and rural areas have tried to wrest back control, changing governmental structures and clamping down on measures meant to make voting easier. Candidates allied with Trump are running for several state offices.

Abrams, a nationally known voting-rights advocate and former Georgia state legislator who narrowly lost to Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial race, announced last week that she would again seek the office. Trump endorsed Kemp four years ago, but has since publicly attacked the governor, including at a September rally where he said Abrams would make a better governor and cajoled Perdue to run.

Perdue’s candidacy was reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Politico, the New York Times and Washington Post.

Hot Blast

Trump recently said in a statement that he doesn’t believe Kemp can win the support of the former president’s base. They “will not vote for him after what he did with respect to election integrity and two horribly run elections, for President and then two Senate seats,” Trump said.

Perdue, who is cousin of Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor and U.S. agriculture secretary, was first elected to the Senate in 2014. After one term, he lost in a runoff race earlier this year to political newcomer Ossoff.

With his entrance into next year’s governor’s contest, Perdue joins a slate of pro-Trump candidates in races throughout Georgia. Herschel Walker, the former University of Georgia and professional football star, has announced that he will seek the U.S. Senate seat held by Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. 

Warnock, a Democrat, is serving his first term in the U.S. Senate. Walker is running as a Republican and has been endorsed by Trump, whose relationship with Walker goes back to Trump’s days as an owner of the New Jersey Generals, a team that Walker once played for, in the defunct United States Football League.

Trump’s Party?

The statewide contests are “going to demonstrate how strong Donald Trump actually is in Georgia,” said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

With Perdue’s decision, Georgia’s Republican party could be thrown into disarray in what might amount to a civil war. Gillespie said she expects to see a costly primary and that “there’s a real chance that the GOP would be fractured enough to benefit Abrams in the general election.” 

Trump, she said, “is going to put his thumb on the scale in favor of Perdue, and it’s going to be a test of how strong his endorsement is in this state.”

“It’s going to be bloody and it’s going to be really nasty,” Gillespie  said. “And they may tear each other down so far that it will be hard for either of them to come back.”

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