As my colleague Jim Galloway first reported, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss will soon announce that he will not seek re-election in 2014.
Georgia conservatives are already taking credit for the decision, arguing that they pushed “Taxby” into retirement. And they probably did. The senator has a very conservative voting record, but not conservative enough for many in his party. His admission that maybe, just maybe, the Republicans would have to accept higher taxes as a necessary evil made him unacceptable in their eyes, guaranteeing a bitter primary fight.
I doubt Chambliss will admit that internal party dissent played a role in his decision. He might say that by announcing so early, he allows himself to devote the next two years to trying to solve problems in Washington. He’ll probably also tell us that if he had wanted to run again, he’s certain that he would have won.
However, few will believe him, and his departure marks another step in his party’s inexorable march to the right.
The announcement also sets off a free-for-all among Georgia congressmen, who are all too aware that an open Senate seat doesn’t come along very often. As they give up their seats to run, that in turn will create ripples in the Georgia General Assembly, as legislators position themselves to fill those vacancies. It promises to be quite the scene, with GOP Senate hopefuls competing with each other for the title of most-diehard-conservative-ever-ever-ever.
And as an added attraction? As the AJC’s Dan Malloy tweets from Washington, a spokesman for Newt Gingrich may be cracking the door open a bit, observing that “Newt might be on Medicare, but he is not ready for the retirement home.” As you recall, Gingrich won the Georgia presidential primary by 20 percentage points. He had ruled out running in a primary against Chambliss, but this could change things.
(Personally, I think a Gingrich run is unlikely. But in a second tweet, Malloy reports that “Expecting a statement from @NewtGingrich on #GASen today after he speaks with his wife.” UPDATE 12:34: A Gingrich spokesman now says that the former speaker “will not be a candidate in the 2014 GOP Senate primary.”)
On the Democratic side, the promise of a hard-fought, expensive, blood-letting GOP primary, with the process almost certain to produce a candidate much more conservative than the conservative Chambliss, may create a small window of opportunity.
No, the timing isn’t perfect. The demographics of the state may be changing, but they haven’t quite changed enough. The political fortunes of Democrats in general are improving, but they haven’t improved quite enough in Georgia. And the party infrastructure in much of the state is abysmal. Nonetheless, the right Democratic candidate, with the right campaign and message and against the right opponent, could potentially accelerate the process by a cycle or two.
And who might fit the bill as the “right Democratic candidate”? The list is pretty short. U.S. Rep. John Barrow, the only white southern Democrat remaining in the House, has already announced he won’t run for Senate. State Sen. Jason Carter of Decatur has a bright future, but youth and relative inexperience would make victory difficult. And while Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is probably the party’s best hope in a statewide race, it would be a big political risk even for him.
– Jay Bookman