U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (left) has been endorsed by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (right) in the U.S. Senate race. (Photo from David Ralston Facebook page)

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, among the state’s most powerful political leaders, has endorsed U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in his run for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, handed Collins his endorsement Thursday in an announcement that characterized the four-term congressman from Gainesville’s conservative values as “like a tree planted by the water.”

“[Collins] and his family live those values every single day: a strong Christian faith, a tireless work ethic and a public servant who serves with honor and integrity,” Ralston said in a statement.

Collins has been battling for months with U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., over which of the two Republican candidates represents the most conservative pick in the upcoming special election on Nov. 3.

Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill Isakson’s seat until the election, has long pushed staunchly conservative stances while attacking Collins’ background as a criminal defense attorney and voting record with Democratic favorite Stacey Abrams in the state legislature.

A Loeffler campaign spokesman dismissed Ralston’s endorsement late Thursday and highlighted controversy swarming the House speaker over reports he has frequently used his legislative role as a means to delay court cases while working as a defense attorney.

“Like Doug Collins, Ralston is a career politician and criminal defense lawyer who abused his power to protect violent criminals, domestic abusers and child molesters,” said Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Loeffler. “Both are political insiders who care more about their taxpayer funded paycheck and politics than public safety and service.”

Collins has punched back at Loeffler, particularly by criticizing her ownership of the Atlanta Dream women’s basketball team and highlighting connections between the team and past events involving Abrams and the pro-abortion rights nonprofit Planned Parenthood.

Thursday’s endorsement did not come as a surprise. Ralston has long touted his friendship with Collins and publicly praised the Gainesville congressman earlier this year during the 2020 legislative session.

But the endorsement does emphasize intra-party schisms between many of the state’s most powerful Republican officeholders like Kemp and Ralston, who each hold large political sway at the state Capitol.

Likewise, Collins held a rally in Gainesville last week that drew attendance from former Gov. Nathan Deal, who has not yet endorsed the congressman but whose presence nonetheless created the appearance of a former Georgia governor lined up against Kemp.

Meanwhile, Loeffler has held a spate of campaign events since last week featuring Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, and big-name Washington, D.C., backers including U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

On the Democratic side, frontrunner Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has pulled support from a stream of prominent state and national Democratic leaders including Abrams and Jon Ossoff, the investigative journalist who is competing in Georgia’s other U.S. Senate race as the Democratic nominee.

The hotly contest race for the Senate seat held by Loeffler has drawn 20 other candidates vying to unseat her. All candidates will be on the Nov. 3 ballot in the free-for-all-special election. A runoff will be held in January if no candidate gains more than 50% of votes.

This story has been updated to include a response from Sen. Loeffler’s campaign.