BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Republican Party’s leadership took the unusual step of endorsing Attorney General Jeff Landry for governor in 2023, before any other candidates have officially entered what is expected to be a competitive race among high-ranking GOP politicians.

The early endorsement, reported by The Advocate, sparked outrage from potential candidates who have yet to officially throw their hats into the ring — with Landry being the first and only person to announce his bid for governor so far. And with accusations of backroom politics being involved, some experts wonder if the endorsement may hurt Landry’s run for governor next year rather than propel him forward.

“There is nothing more conservative, nothing more (Republican), than competition,” Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a likely GOP gubernatorial candidate, tweeted Monday morning. “This endorsement process looks more like communist China than the Louisiana we know and love. Some think this is a coronation. Real republicans will make sure we have an election, not a monarchy.”

In a race that is expected to attract multiple strong GOP candidates for governor, the state party has been urged by some — including Landry and wealthy Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, who ran for governor in 2019 — to coalesce support behind a single candidate. The party’s executive committee met Sunday night to vote to endorse Landry.

“The citizens of Louisiana do not need back room deals and political insiders telling them who should be our next Governor. They are fully capable of deciding this themselves,” state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, another potential candidate for governor, tweeted Monday.

Robert Hogan, a professor and chair of Louisiana State University’s political science department, said that the early endorsement is likely an attempt to keep the field clear for one candidate. In addition, while this particular endorsement may not hold much weight to voters, the real target audience is donors, who are deciding which candidate to give funds too.

At least one member of the Republican State Central Committee — the voting body of the state party — bitterly opposed the executive committee’s actions, describing it as stinking “like yesterday’s diapers.” Michael DiResto, called the meeting “clandestine” and added that no one sought his “opinion before taking action.”

“I have no horse yet in the Governor’s election, because we haven’t even heard any of the announced or potential candidates spell out a policy platform,” DiResto said in a statement sent to the Associated Press. “But as a lifelong Republican, the idea that a small cabal would pre-empt the democratic process literally under the cover of darkness and in a smoke-filled Zoom goes against the foundational values of our party. I predict it will backfire.”

Following outrage from fellow Republicans, some question if the endorsement will ultimately benefit Landry or rather cause infighting.

“I don’t know whether or not this is going to have a big effect, other than I think it’s causing some acrimony,” Hogan said. “Normally what you would see is that candidates running for governor, wanting party endorsement, will have an opportunity to make their case for the endorsers. They were not given such an opportunity.”

Louisiana is currently the only state in the Deep South with a Democrat for governor, a rarity among conservative states. But, Gov. John Bel Edwards is unable to seek a third consecutive term due to term limits — opening a huge opportunity for Republicans to take control of the state’s highest ranking position.

Landry, a conservative Republican and staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, launched his bid for governor last month. But, the list of GOP politicians interested in the coveted position is slowly growing.

Lt. Gov. Nungesser confirmed to the press in August that he plans to join the race, hitting the campaign trail in 2023. Louisiana Treasurer John Schroder told supporters in January he also plans on running for governor.

Among other Republicans who have indicated that they are considering running for the state’s highest position are U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, state Rep. Richard Nelson, and state Sen. Hewitt.

It remains unclear who will emerge as a Democratic candidate.