Jan. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Rep. Doug Collins announced Wednesday he will be seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Georgia, setting up a primary battle with Kelly Loeffler, the seat's appointed caretaker.
Collins, one of President Donald Trump's chief defenders in the House of Representatives, confirmed during an interview on Fox News that he was running for the seat formerly held by Johnny Isakson before the long-serving senator's retirement for health reasons in December.
Loeffler, a conservative businesswoman, was appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to hold the seat until an election can be held in November, giving her incumbent status. The move surprised some because Trump had lobbied him to appoint Collins to serve out Isakson's term.
"We're in for the Georgia Senate race," Collins said. "I've still got a lot of work left to do to help this president. We're getting ready for a good time down here to keep defending this president and working for the people of Georgia."
Collins, a four-term Congressman from Georgia's 9th District, gained national prominence as the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee with his aggressive defense of Trump against two articles of impeachment drawn up and ultimately approved by the Democratic majority.
During the hearings, he called the process a "sham impeachment" and accused Democrats of launching "a three-year vendetta" against Trump, seeking to remove him from office for fear they will not be able to beat him in the 2020 presidential election.
Kemp's appointment of Loeffler to Isakson's seat, however, could open a rift within Georgia's Republican Party.
Loeffler has attempted to establish her credentials as a Trump supporter by similarly blasting the impeachment process. On Monday she attacked Republican Senate colleague Mitt Romney for saying he wanted to hear personally from former national security adviser John Bolton at Trump's ongoing impeachment trial.
"After 2 weeks, it's clear that Democrats have no case for impeachment," she wrote. "Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It's time to move on!"
But Collins has the strong backing of Trump, who personally lobbied Kemp to appoint him to Isakson's seat on at least three occasions.