The time has come for U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss to keep a close eye on the movements of certain people in Georgia. U.S. Rep. Tom Price, for instance.
A series of rubber-chicken speeches in venues such as Columbus or Macon or Ringgold, all far from the congressman’s home in Roswell, could mean that trouble’s afoot.
We are now 16 days from the end of the presidential campaign. Which means we are only 17 days away from the 2014 campaign season and this all-important question: Which Republican will attempt to spoil Chambliss’ bid for a third term?
Georgia’s senior senator, who has been sailing close to the wind with his Gang-of-Six efforts to forge a bipartisan agreement and heal a $16 trillion federal deficit, has already conceded that he’ll have primary opposition. He most recently reported $1.4 million in campaign cash on hand, with two-years of fundraising ahead of him.
If Chambliss is lucky, his opponent will be merely symbolic. Perhaps an underfunded member of the tea party.
If he’s not, a well-funded member of the state’s congressional delegation will attempt to give himself a promotion, and the Georgia GOP will need to prepare itself for a wrenching, cut-throat battle likely to pit business-oriented, establishment Republicans against the party’s ideological wing.
GOP insiders are looking at two members of Congress in particular.
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, had $1.8 million just sitting there in his campaign treasury as of Sept. 30. But over the last two weeks, through several back-channel paths, Gingrey has let it be known that he has no interest whatsoever in challenging Chambliss.
Price, who reported $1.6 million in available cash, has been more circumspect about a U.S. Senate run. But observers inside and outside the congressman’s circle say such a gamble could hinge on a number of factors, including:
— Republican control of the U.S. Senate. With 23 of 33 seats up for grabs on Nov. 6 currently held by Democrats, GOP control was once considered a sure thing. Now it is only an even bet. But if Republicans are able to gain the upper hand, Chambliss is in line to become chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
His higher profile might discourage more serious opposition.
On the other hand, if the Senate remains in Democratic hands, there arises the possibility that Chambliss, 68, might decide to retire rather than wait another two years. He has offered no hint of this. But if that should happen, a raftful of Republicans – Price and Gingrey among them – would likely jump into the contest immediately.
— Price’s bid for a House leadership position. Shortly after next month’s vote, Republican members of Congress will elect their leadership team. The top three slots – Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California – isn’t likely to change.
But Price is in the midst of a campaign for chairmanship of the House GOP conference, the No. 4 position, and has the support of Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican nominee for vice president. Price is running against Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington, who is now conference vice-chairman.
House Republicans will have a difficult choice. Without McMorris Rogers, they’ll have no woman on their leadership team. Without Price, they’ll have no member from the GOP’s conservative Deep South stronghold.
Chances that Price would challenge Chambliss drop significantly if Price becomes chairman of the House Republican conference, we’re told. He would become part of Boehner’s leadership team. And Chambliss is one of Boehner’s best friends in Washington.
— How a lame-duck Congress deals with the “fiscal cliff.” Current members of the House and Senate will be required, by the end of the year, to reach at least a temporary accord on a reduction of the federal deficit.
Without an agreement, signed by a President Barack Obama who may or may not be re-elected, the Bush-era tax cuts expire and a series of across-the-board budget cuts go into effect. Washington insiders expect Congress to kick the issue into next year – with a definitive budget deal to follow.
In the midst of those negotiations, Congress will also be asked again to raise the federal debt ceiling.
How a grand bargain is received by Republican grassroots is likely to be the largest factor in any measurement of Chambliss’ vulnerability.
— And the strength of the tea party movement. If Mitt Romney loses his presidential bid, and if Republicans fail to take the U.S. Senate, tea party forces may take much of the blame for pushing Republicans too far rightward.
But a wounded tea party movement might be more dangerous for Chambliss than a happy one. Adherents would be looking for a way to reassert their clout, and the Georgia senator could become a tempting target. (Undeserved or not, the fact that his 2008 re-election bid required a runoff with Democrat Jim Martin marked Chambliss as a so-so campaigner.)
“If Obama does win, we will fight any politician who believes that the federal government doesn’t have enough money and that taxes should go up,” Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots wrote in a fundraising letter only a few weeks ago.
The tea party movement, in effect, would be fighting ”a two-front war,” she said. And two years from now, Chambliss could be caught in the crossfire.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider