Rep. Lynn WestmorelandU.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said Monday he would not seek the Republican Senate nomination from Georgia, opting instead to run for reelection to his suburban Atlanta district.

“After discussing it with family and friends, and after much deliberation and prayer, I have made the decision to not pursue a statewide office at this time,” Westmoreland said in a statement. “I am honored to be serving as the U.S. Congressman for Georgia’s Third District.”

It was widely expected that Westmoreland, a close friend and political ally of Gov. Nathan Deal, would have entered the race with the overt support and political infrastructure of the governor, but Monday’s news of abstention leaves the state’s top Republican without a candidate to support.

Now, senior Republicans believe, Deal will remain neutral until a runoff–Georgia election law requires candidates clear the 50 percent threshold or default to a runoff with the second-highest vote-getter–when his endorsement would bear more influence. (By enduring the volatility of a crowded primary field, in which a quartet of GOP congressional lawmakers are expected to enter, Deal also avoids the potential his endorsement might miscarry.)

– James Richardson