Chambliss departure has wannabes gazing in mirror and seeing a senator
by Bill Kinney and Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
January 29, 2013 01:05 AM | 3009 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE POLITICS OF POLARIZATION claimed their latest victim last week: veteran U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who announced on Friday that he would retire from the Senate when his current term expires at the end of next year. In an era where red-meat partisanship rules both parties, efforts by Chambliss to reach across the aisle on the budget (as a member of the so-called “Gang of Six”) and other issues, and his vote this month on the fiscal cliff impasse, had deeply eroded his base among conservatives. As Around Town noted Jan. 19, private polling done on the senator’s behalf showed his support at “abysmal” levels. So low, in fact, that AT’s high-ranking GOP source in Atlanta said privately that Chambliss would have no choice but to step down.

Chambliss disputes that, declaring in his announcement that “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.”

Rather, he said, his decision not to run stems from the frustration he feels in the lack of leadership from the White House and the gridlock in Congress.

“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,” he said. “For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy.”

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EVERYONE KNOWS how dysfunctional Congress is, but some of the best evidence of that can be found in the fact that the close personal and working relationship between Georgia’s two senators — Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, R-east Cobb — is not just unusual, but virtually unparalleled in today’s Washington. It’s frequent for many same-state senators to barely be on speaking terms with each other, much less to work hand-in-hand like Georgia’s. That’s true even of same-state senators who happen to share the same political affiliation.

But not only are the voting records of Chambliss and Isakson virtual carbon copies of each other, the two even are known for sending out joint press releases. There’s no question that their ability to “speak with one voice” has benefitted our state and given it more leverage in the Senate.

And the ties between the two senators extend well beyond politics. As Isakson noted to the MDJ on Friday, he and Chambliss have been best friends for 51 years. Similarly, Diane Isakson and Chambliss’s wife, Julianne, were sorority sisters at UGA and have remained close.

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TALK HAS BEEN RAMPANT since Christmas of who might mount a primary challenge against Chambliss, and now that he is out of next year’s picture, the list of possible Republican candidates has ballooned. In fact, it seems like half the elected Republicans in Georgia looked in the mirror over the weekend and saw a Senator gazing back at them.

Among the names heard most often are U.S. Reps. Tom Price of Roswell, Phil Gingrey of Marietta, Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta County, Paul Broun of Athens, Jack Kingston of Savannah, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, former Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, Georgia Attorney Gen. Sam Olens of east Cobb, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and radio talker/presidential candidate Herman Cain, although Cain said Friday he does not plan to run.

Unfortunately for Democratic aspirants to Chambliss’s seat, Georgia remains solidly red. The gap is narrowing, but 2014 might be too soon even for a Democrat with crossover appeal to have a realistic hope of winning — especially without Barack Obama on the ticket.

However, that hasn’t stopped speculation that the Democratic ticket in ’14 might include the names of former Gov. Roy Barnes of Marietta, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Congressman John Barrow, former state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, state Sen. Jason Carter (grandson of President Jimmy Carter), and former Georgia Attorney Gen. Thurbert Baker.

As Barnes likes to say, “The only known cure for politics is embalming fluid.”

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MEANWHILE, Cobb GOP head Joe Dendy noted that the Chambliss opening will have an unfortunate ripple effect on his party. Elected officials, encouraged by pricey political consultants who get paid regardless of the outcome, enter races they shouldn’t and lose their place in line for leadership roles and coveted chairmanships.

Congressmen have to give up their congressional seats in order to run for Senate, for example. And don’t be surprised to see some current officials and other hopefuls float their names as Senate hopefuls and start raising money for such a race. Then, if they fail to catch on, or don’t have much luck “dialing for dollars,” they might choose to stay put when qualifying time comes around next spring and qualify to run for their present office, not Senate.

The drawback to that approach, though, is that by signaling their intent to run for Senate, they essentially give the green light for others to run for the seat they now occupy. So a Senate hopeful who bows out next spring could very well wind up with a primary challenge on hand for his or her present seat.

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PRICE WOULD HAVE no trouble raising money for a Senate race and would be among the most articulate candidates. But Price — who many expected might have challenged Chambliss in the primary — also must weight the pros and cons of staying put. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is rumored to be weighing a run for the U.S. Senate seat four years from now. Were he to do so, then Price, who is now vice chairman of the Budget Committee, would be in line for one of the most high-profile committee chairmanships in the House. That might be a safer bet than a primary run, in which even if he were to ultimately win the seat, he would still be just a freshman senator.

As for a Gingrey run, he’s probably best known around the state at the moment for his ham-handed attempt this month to explain away the “legitimate rape” and similar comments made during last year’s U.S. Senate race by candidates in Missouri and Indiana. The Chambliss opening could not have come at a worse time for him.

If Price were to resign to run for Senate, you could expect a wide-open scramble to succeed him representing the Republican-heavy 6th District, which includes nearly all of Cobb east of I-75 plus North Fulton, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Chamblee. Possible candidates from Cobb include state Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), former State Sen. Chip Rogers, Karen Handel, Georgia Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, State Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie, and Johnny Isakson’s chief of staff Chris Carr.

A similar scramble for the 11th District seat could ensue if Gingrey were to run for Senate. That district encompasses all of northwest Cobb north of Macland Road; Marietta, Smyrna, Vinings, northwest Buckhead and the Chastain Park area, plus all of Cherokee and Bartow counties. Like the 6th, it is heavily Republican.

Candidates from Cobb could include state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), former state Sen. Chuck Clay, newly elected state Sen. Hunter Hill, State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, State Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), political consultant and former Gingery chief of staff Mitch Hunter, newly elected Cobb DA Vic Reynolds, and even former U.S. Rep Bob Barr (R-Marietta) who switched to the Libertarian Party to run unsuccessfully for president in 2008 but who now has been edging back to the GOP.

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SATURDAY NIGHT more than 1,000 Cobb business leaders, politicians and others (including Gov. Nathan Deal) gathered at the Galleria for the Cobb Chamber’s annual banquet.

The large gathering of bigwigs and the timing of Chambliss’s announcement led one politico to quip, “I’d say 15 percent of the people here tonight are considering a run for Saxby’s seat.”

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MARIETTA Mayor Steve Tumlin will give his “State of the City” address at the noon Feb. 4 meeting of the Marietta Metro Kiwanis Club at First United Methodist Church in Marietta.

Cost to attend is $20 and reservations are required. Call members Roy Vanderslice at (770) 974-3482 or Bob Binkley at (404) 797-5901.

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STATE Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna) will hold a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Smyrna Town Hall, 200 Village Green Circle. For more information, visit www.gahousedems.com.

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FOR THOSE WONDERING what was going to occupy the new building that went up in recent months on the former site of the Maple Garden Chinese restaurant next to La Parilla on South Marietta Parkway, the answer is Pier 213, a seafood restaurant.

The restaurant will hold an invitation-only sneak preview Feb. 4 and is owned by the brother-sister team of Sean and Kammie Sakprasit, with another brother, Kevin, working with Kammie as managing partners.
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