January 25, 2013

Sen. Saxby Chambliss Is Retiring (UPDATED)

Paul Broun, John Barrow are potential candidates.

The AJC's Greg Bluestein broke the news this morning that U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss won't run for re-election in 2014. Chambliss cited frustration with partisan gridlock in a statement he released this morning:

"I have no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won re-election. In these difficult political times, I am fortunate to have actually broadened my support around the state and the nation due to the stances I have taken.

“Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nation’s economic health. The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff vote showed Congress at its worst and, sadly, I don’t see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon. For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy.”

Chambliss was facing a likely primary challenge on his right from Rep. Paul Broun (R-Athens), Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell), or both, and he was vulnerable because of his work with Democrats on fiscal issues. His decision not to run again frees him up to focus on cutting a long-term debt deal without worrying about the political ramifications.

The odds that Price, Broun and who knows who else will run for the seat rise astronomically now that's going to be an open one. Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, Broun's former campaign manager and treasurer, had advised him to wait but now says he should go for it.

"This would be the perfect time for Congressman Broun to make a run for the Senate, a lifelong dream of his," Echols said. "Broun's campaign work ethic is unsurpassed, and he really connects with voters.  Add to that the fact that he is a medical doctor and Marine--and you can see why conservative Republicans love him."

If the Republicans nominate a tea partier, it could be within reach for Democrats. (See: Sharron Angle in Nevada, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Todd Akin in Missouri, etc.)

“Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle," Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a news release. "There are already several reports of the potential for a divisive primary that will push Republicans to the extreme right. Regardless, there’s no question that the demographics of the state have changed and Democrats are gaining strength. This will be a top priority.”

Rep. John Barrow (D-Athens-Savannah-Augusta) and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed would seem to be the Democrats' strongest potential candidates. Reed has proven fundraising ability and friends on both sides of the aisle, while Barrow's won re-election four times in spite of the GOP's efforts to draw him increasingly red districts. Barrow's statement on the matter:

“Senator Chambliss has been a great public servant to the State of Georgia and the entire country, and he’s someone I’ve respected throughout our time working together. He’s set an example for his willingness to reach across the aisle to actually get things done in a very partisan Congressional climate. I’ve enjoyed our time working together, and I have no doubt he’ll continue to do great things after he leaves the Senate.

“At this time, I have no plans to run for anything other than re-election in the 12th district, but I am certainly gratified that people have been suggesting I run for the Senate."

The key phrase is "at this time."