My colleague Jim Galloway drops a mighty big political bomb for a Friday morning more than 21 months before the next election: Saxby Chambliss reportedly has told his senior staff members he will not run for re-election next year. (Update at 11:40: An announcement from Chambliss’ office just arrived, making it official. He’s not running.)
There’s been plenty of speculation about this possibility in the past, and just a couple of weeks ago he told me — in probably the strongest terms he’d used to that point — that he was seriously considering it. Now that it’s set to become official this morning, we can begin speculating in earnest about who might run for that seat.
In my mind, the list is not short. Here are some possible names, in alphabetical order and with some thoughts about their respective likelihood of running:
Paul Broun: The congressman from Georgia’s 10th District is first on the list alphabetically but probably would be first on the list if I were ranking the possibilities by likelihood of running, too. He has been not-so-coy about giving consideration to running for the seat. Update at 1:25 p.m.: A statement from Broun says he is still “prayerfully considering my own future.”
Casey Cagle/Brian Kemp/Sam Olens: Georgia’s lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general, respectively, all appear to be lining up for a battle royale in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial primary (i.e., after Gov. Nathan Deal would have served two terms). Might one of them see an open Senate seat and give serious thought to making his move four years earlier? If so, it would almost certainly be just one of these three — and quite possibly none of them. Update at 12:35 p.m.: Olens did not rule out running when asked.
Herman Cain: The erstwhile presidential candidate ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, losing in the GOP primary to now-Sen. Johnny Isakson, and the local rumor mill has been churning about his possible interest in challenging Chambliss. That said, he is already publicly denying he has any interest. Of course, he did just start a job this very week as Neal Boortz’s replacement at WSB radio, so he’d pretty much have to say that, right? Keep an eye on him just in case.
Phil Gingrey (new addition to the list at 5:12 p.m.): The congressman from Georgia’s 11th District. I had heard mostly that Gingrey wasn’t really interested in running statewide, but a spokeswoman emails to say he “is receiving lots of encouragement and leaving all options on the table.” So, he’s on the list.
Newt Gingrich: I wouldn’t have put him on the list, but his spokesman did not at all deny the former U.S. speaker and presidential candidate might have interest when my colleague Daniel Malloy asked about it. So, here he is. (Update at 12:35 p.m.: A spokesman says Gingrich is not running.)
Tom Graves: The congressman from Georgia’s 14th District is a tea-party favorite and widely believed to have higher ambitions. He might be less inclined to run if Broun gets in.
Karen Handel: She’s a former Georgia secretary of state, past gubernatorial candidate and, famously, a central figure in the dispute over Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s short-lived decision to end subsidies to Planned Parenthood. At this point, I think she’s less likely to run for this seat than a lot of the early buzz would have it. I think it’s more likely she would run in the 6th Congressional District if Tom Price were to run (see below). But if Price doesn’t run for Senate, I suppose that could change.
Jack Kingston: The congressman from Georgia’s 1st District indicated in a statement today that he’s considering a run. That’s somewhat surprising, given how much trouble his fellow Savannah resident Eric Johnson had in simply gaining name ID for a gubernatorial run in 2010. But Kingston is on TV a fair amount and has a plum spot on the House Appropriations Committee, so maybe he likes his chances.
Barry Loudermilk: The state senator from Cartersville is believed to have interest, but most likely if Broun does not run. At this point, and with so many other big names likely considering the race, it’s possible we won’t see any state legislators running for the U.S. Senate — but participation by those big names could draw a lot of state legislators to run for the U.S. House.
Sonny Perdue: Put Georgia’s immediate past governor in the Gingrich-ian “not ready for the retirement home” category.
Tom Price: One of Georgia’s most visible congressmen, and the former head of the House’s Republican Study Committee, Price has been a much-discussed potential candidate. He might decide to keep trying to rise through the ranks in the House — particularly if Speaker John Boehner shows vulnerability — or he might try to switch chambers. One caveat: Whereas Deal might remain neutral about the other candidates in the race, the word is that a Price candidacy would spur him to choose sides — against Price, who infamously switched his allegiance to Handel in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. Update at 1:25 p.m.: A Price spokesperson says he is “speaking with a number of folks across the state of Georgia and listening to their observations and advice.”
Austin Scott: The congressman from Georgia’s 8th District is the only South Georgian on the list, and he’s a very strong possibility to run now that Chambliss is out of the race.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland would be an instantly serious candidate if he were to get into the race, but he’s given no indication in the past he’s interested. Update at 1:25 p.m.: In a statement, Westmoreland says he is considering running. So I’m giving him his own spot on this list.
Wild cards: And there may well be a non-politico who surprises everyone by choosing this as his/her moment to get into politics (no, I don’t have anyone in mind).
How about on the Democratic side? There already was a feeling among Georgia political observers that Georgia’s severely weakened Democrats would choose to concentrate their resources on one statewide race, and that this would be it. Now that it’s an open seat, I think that’s even more likely.
For now, the Democrats’ list begins and ends with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. He was one of President Obama’s most prominent surrogates during last year’s election, and there’s a lot of talk here that the White House really wants Reed to run for this seat. That talk is bound to soar now that it’s an open seat. Reed is up for re-election this fall and isn’t expected to draw any opponents who are serious threats to him. If he wants to run, other Democrats almost certainly would stay out of the race, and he wouldn’t have to leave his current job to do so. A win would be a huge step up for him, earlier than most expected (Georgia’s demographic trends regarding white and minority voters mirror but lag behind those nationally). If he lost, he’d still be Atlanta’s mayor, working famously well with Deal and GOP state legislators, and would have even more name ID statewide for a 2018 run.
Update at 12:35 p.m.: In a statement, Reed said today is not about politics but honoring Chambliss for his service.
In the event he doesn’t run, the Democrats’ chances of winning this seat drop sharply. Possible candidates might be state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, state Sen. Jason Carter (President Carter’s grandson) and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. Only Barrow hails from anywhere outside Atlanta.
Update at 12:35 p.m.: Former DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones says to “stay tuned” about his plans in 2014.
Oh, and here’s a name completely out of left field, just for fun: How about former state Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears? I have no idea if she’d ever entertain the thought, but she might turn out to be a very strong candidate.
What say y’all?
– By Kyle Wingfield