Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admire how Sen. Saxby Chambliss threw the state’s political community into an uproar with last week’s announcement that he won’t run again in 2014.
Chambliss made all the necessary remarks about how “frustration” with the dysfunctional Senate caused him to step down after 20 years in Congress. In the end, it comes down to this: He did not want his political career to finish with a defeat in a GOP primary.
Chambliss has made some enemies with the extreme fringe of the Republican base, partly because of his negotiations with Democratic senators on a “Gang of Six” to craft a compromise on the federal deficit.
For all of the media coverage lavished upon Chambliss and his colleagues, we should note that the work done by the “Gang of Six” did not result in a single tax being raised or a single spending item being cut.
The group accomplished about what the rest of Washington has been able to accomplish: nothing. Chambliss was still lambasted by conservatives for being a part of it and he also drew criticism for supporting legislation that could have provided a path to citizenship for immigrants.
It thus was no surprise that Chambliss, who probably spent more time on golf courses than he did on the Senate floor, was ready to go back home so he could be “sitting on a back porch drinking whiskey with some of y’all.”
With this decision, Chambliss has guaranteed that 2014 should be the craziest, most wide-open election year this state has seen in a long time. It will be a time when the inmates are truly running the asylum.
Most of the nine Republicans who represent Georgia in the U.S. House can be seen as potential replacements for Chambliss. This group includes Reps. Tom Price, Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun. Jack Kingston indicated he’s giving the Senate race some consideration as well.
Reps. Tom Graves, Lynn Westmoreland, Rob Woodall and Austin Scott could also get into the mix. You should add the names of Secretary of State Brian Kemp and former secretary of state Karen Handel to that list of prospective candidates, along with talk show stalwarts Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Erick Erickson. Who knows, Neal Boortz may even come out of retirement in Florida to run for it.
That will be a very crowded Republican primary, with the candidates making all sorts of outrageous statements to show that they’re the most conservative politician in the race. By the time they’re through, they’ll probably make Chambliss look like Leon Trotsky. They may even make Broun look moderate.
As these House seats are vacated, that will put more congressional districts into play. Handel, for example, might be tempted to run for Price’s old House seat if Price enters the Senate race.
If Broun runs for the U.S. Senate, state Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, would probably declare he’s running for Broun’s House seat. If Kingston tries to move up, former state legislator Eric Johnson could be the candidate who runs for Kingston’s House seat.
With an open race now assured for the Senate seat, Georgia Democrats will try to field a credible candidate on their side of the ballot. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, U.S. Rep. John Barrow and state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, would all be possibilities to consider in that race.
“Today’s announcement by Sen. Chambliss that he has decided to retire presents a great opportunity for Georgia Democrats to reclaim one of our U.S. Senate seats,” said Mike Berlon, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
One of the happiest persons in the state has to be Gov. Nathan Deal. With Chambliss leaving the Senate, Deal no longer has to worry about a primary challenge from a strong candidate to his right in 2014. Any conservative with a decent amount of campaign funding is going to be running for the Senate or for one of the House seats that opens up.
The political consultants and advertising directors who work in Georgia are even happier than Deal, I would suspect. Thanks to the many competitive races that will result from Chambliss’ retirement, they are assured of full employment during this election cycle.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report at gareport.com. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.