ATLANTA -- When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announces Wednesday that he's picked financial executive Kelly Loeffler for an open U.S. Senate seat, she'll have some powerful backup to help defend her new post.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee will support Loeffler, giving her a key political ally as she faces a potential GOP challenge, according to two people with direct knowledge of the decision.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported last week that Kemp will appoint Loeffler to the seat despite President Donald Trump's endorsement of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a four-term congressman who is one of his top advocates in the U.S. House.
Kemp is set to announce Loeffler's pick Wednesday morning. He's putting the final touches on the rollout for the political newcomer, a financial executive who can self-fund her campaign but has drawn the scorn of some conservative critics.
At a recent breakfast with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is vacating the seat at year's end because of health issues, the three-term incumbent also repeated his pledge to Kemp to support whoever the governor picks for the seat.
And Kemp resumed calling state elected officials to personally inform them of the pick. The announcement was set for Wednesday so it didn't interfere with Isakson's farewell speech, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in the U.S. Senate.
Loeffler, meanwhile, started introducing herself to her soon-to-be colleagues. She spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by phone in what a senior Republican official described as a positive conversation.
She was told she'd be treated as an incumbent with the full support of the NRSC, the political arm of the Senate GOP whose support could help her defend against a possible primary challenge, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the private conversation.
Loeffler, a first-time candidate who would be the second female U.S. senator in state history, might need the support.
Collins told the Journal-Constitution two weeks ago that he's "strongly" considering a run for the seat if he's not appointed. Trump has directly pressed Kemp to appoint Collins at least three times.
And Loeffler's been targeted by conservative activists who have scrutinized her degree of support for Trump, questioned her past campaign contributions to Democrats and tried to depict her as a closet liberal.
Among the latest is Mark Levin, the radio host and ally of Trump who called Kemp "another Romney" on Twitter. "He's about to appoint a RINO to the Senate. His surrogates are trashing conservative critics like Gaetz," Levin wrote.
The out-of-state umbrage might be just fine for Kemp and his aides. They'd much rather mock non-Georgians -- see last week's conflagration with Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida -- than knock the in-state activists who are critical of his decision.
It's a convenient way to shift the narrative away from one that frames Kemp as someone willing to ignore Trump's personal pleas, and toward a view that casts the governor as defiantly standing against what is now the party's establishment.
Meanwhile, Kemp's supporters have started to give him some cover for his presumptive pick of Loeffler.
Former state lawmaker Buzz Brockway and Cole Muzio of the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia have been outspoken in their pleas for faith in Kemp's decisions.
And Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who applied for the seat, praised the governor's tactical decision in planning to pick a woman and business executive.
"Kelly, or any outstanding conservative woman, helps Republicans win back suburban women who seem to have left our party in the last cycle," he said. "The governor knows what he's doing."
Still, wary state Republicans are nervous about a lasting rift. The board of the Georgia Young Republicans also voted unanimously to back Kemp in whoever he picks, nodding to the acrimony already dividing some Georgia conservatives.
"Unity sometimes means swallowing pride and ambition and doing what is best for the party," said Andrew Abbott, a spokesman for the group.
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