Chambliss Won't Run in 2014. Who Will?

Chambliss cites obstruction, not tough primary challenge, as reason for retirement.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss waves to supporters with his wife Julianne after claiming victory at Republican Victory Celebration in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who has served in Congress since 1995 and in the Senate since 2003, surprised Washington Friday when he declared he won't seek re-election in 2014.

In the Senate, Chambliss gained a reputation as a conservative who was willing to compromise on fiscal issues in recent years, which may have subjected him to an arduous primary challenge in 2014.

In 2011, Chambliss sought long-term economic common ground as part of the gang of six.

And in 2012, during the fiscal cliff negotiations, he said he cared more about coming to an agreement with Democrats than he did about "a 20-year-old pledge," referring to Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge.

He eventually voted "yes" for the deal to raise taxes on Americans making more than $450,000 to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

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However, Chambliss blamed obstructionism and partisan hostility as reasons why he would retire, not fear of a fight.

"I am proud of my conservative voting record in fulfilling those duties. In 2008, I was honored to receive more votes than any other statewide elected official in the history of Georgia. Lest anyone think this decision is about a primary challenge, I have no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won re-election," Chambliss said in a statement. "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."

Congressional election expert Kyle Kondik, from the University of Virginia, however, sees it differently.

Kondik says that despite Chambliss' 92.5 lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, he undoubtedly would have had a bitter re-election on his hands.

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"I would not call Chambliss moderate," Kondik says. "But the fact that he appeared to be slightly bipartisan poisoned the well for him even though his voting record was very conservative. If the tea party wanted to claim Chambliss's scalp, they could do so credibly."

Echoing other Republicans who have recently left the Senate--including Olympia Snowe of Maine and Jim DeMint of South Carolina--Chambliss painted a bleak picture of Washington in his announcement.

"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," Chambliss said. "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."

The question circling around the beltway now is who will fill the seat.

Some Georgia politicos, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, announced they would not run, but current congressmen are not ruling out the opportunity.

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The names of Georgia Republican Reps. Tom Price and Phil Gingrey as well as former Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, and former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain have all been tossed around.

Club for Growth, a conservative group that supports candidates with pro-business agendas, says it is monitoring the race closely.

"What the United States Senate needs is more Republicans who are willing to stand on principle to cut spending," Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller says. "The problem with Washington in the last few decades is that Republicans have been willing to grow the size of government just a little bit slower than Democrats otherwise would have."

Democrats announced Friday they will not let the seat go without a fight.

"Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle," DSCC executive director Guy Cecil said in a statement. "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."