Chambliss Exit Sets Off Conservative Scramble

On Friday, two-term GA Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced he would not seek reelection next year. Conservatives and grass roots activists in the state had been actively seeking a primary challenge to Chambliss. At least two members of the GOP House delegation were considering waging a primary fight against the incumbent. His exit, though, sets off a potential free-for-all among conservatives. A fight between two or three strong conservatives could open a path for a more moderate Republican. 

Rep. Tom Price is almost certain to be a candidate. He was reportedly already weighing a challenge to Chambliss. A former chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, he has strong ties to national conservative organizations. A prodigious fundraiser, he has over $1 million in his campaign account. 

He recently lost a leadership election and was suggested by some conservatives as a challenger to Boehner for the Speaker's gavel. It would not be surprising if he were looking beyond the House as his future in politics. As a physician, his candidacy could be well timed in 2014. That year, most of the major provisions of ObamaCare will come into effect, likely returning that issue to the political forefront. 

At least five other House members are considering a run, however. Rep. Paul Broun is a favorite of Tea Party and grass roots conservatives. Like Price, he is also a medical doctor. He has not been a prolific fundraiser but has compensated for that with strong grass roots support. That could be an advantage in a multi-candidate primary. 

Two members of the House Appropriations Committee, Reps. Jack Kingston and Tom Graves, are said to be considering a run. Kingston is the long-serving GOP member from GA. He is also, however, a "Cardinal", chairing one of the Appropriations' Subcommittees. His Subcommittee, Labor-Health, directs the largest amount of discretionary spending. He may be reluctant to give up the powerful perch that gives him a big say in budget negotiations. 

Rep. Graves is relatively new to the House, having won a special election in 2010 after several years in the GA Legislature. He has the highest Club for Growth ranking of anyone in Congress, though, which could trigger considerable outside financial support. He also has the highest rating from Heritage Action of anyone in the GA delegation. 

Also considering runs are veteran Reps. Phil Gingrey and Lynn Westmoreland. Both have strong conservative credentials, earning high marks from both Club for Growth and Heritage Action. Rep. Gingrey is also a doctor, like Reps. Price and Broun. 

Senate seats are not the exclusive purview of House members, though. Open Senate seats are rare and usually attract candidates from outside the halls of Congress. 2014, in fact, may be an ideal year for a candidate without strong ties to Washington. Georgia has several statewide GOP office holders and some reports even indicate that former Governor Sonny Perdue is considering entering the race. There is also the potential for a wild-card to emerge, especially if several candidates are in the race. Herman Cain gained national attention, for example, by running a close primary challenge to then-Rep. Johnny Isakson. 

The Democrats do not have a deep bench in GA, making it unlikely they can recruit a top-tier candidate. In any cycle, GA would be a tough race for a Democrat. With national Democrats making issues like gun control a priority, the state is likely further out of reach for the Democrats. 

Obviously, not everyone who says they are considering the race will run. Everyone is now making calls, gauging support, and assessing potential opposition. The field will coalesce over the next few weeks. Conservatives have a host of credible candidates. If they don't splinter their votes among several candidates, they have an excellent opportunity to add another ally in the Senate. 

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