Johnny Isakson, Georgia's 'known commodity,' announces re-election bid

Gov. Nathan Deal called him the "stable conservative" in the Senate. Rep. Jack Kingston said the throng of Republicans standing behind him sent a "tremendous" signal to possible usurpers. And Sen. Johnny Isakson dubbed himself the "known commodity" in Georgia politics.

Isakson unveiled his third-term bid on Monday with a promise to boost federal infrastructure spending on Savannah's port and Atlanta's airport, reduce the federal deficit and a pledge to pursue muscular foreign policy to deter the Islamic State and other terrorist threats.

But the underlying symbolism - a long list of Georgia Republican officials and activists joined Isakson at the statehouse event - was also meant to send a message to any potential Republican challengers who could seek to outflank Isakson on the right in 2016.

"It's a great sample of the conservative movement," said Kingston. "The signal he sent today was tremendous to a potential opponent."

No obvious challenger has emerged yet, but it's likely that the stiffest challenge Isakson could face would come from within his own party in 2016. Isakson, who will turn 70 in December, remains a favorite among establishment Republicans but his consensus-minded approach has irked some conservative outfits.

With that in mind, the most important fellow at the event (though we can't find him in the above photo) have been U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, a tea party favorite -- and now a protector of the Isakson right flank.

Two early signs of the storm clouds ahead: The Club For Growth, a well-funded Washington group that stokes primary challenges to insufficiently fiscally conservative Republicans, on Wednesday declined to name Isakson when it endorsed six other incumbent senators for re-election in 2016.

And the Conservative Review, a newly formed entity by arch-conservative activists, gave Isakson a failing 46 percent “Liberty Score.”

Isakson has faced flak from the right wing over a host of other issues, though his political acumen and genteel style has allowed him to avoid the heat that was on fellow Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss before he announced his retirement nearly two years ago.

Most discussions about ambitious Georgia Republicans eyeing a U.S. Senate seat are accompanied with the qualifier: “If Johnny doesn’t run.” One name that has frequently popped up is former U.S. Rep. Allen West, of Florida, who has stumped in Georgia at least six times this year.

But West announced last week that he was moving to Texas to run a Dallas-based think tank, making another move to Georgia far less likely. A West spokeswoman declined to comment on his 2016 plans.

Several rising Democratic contenders are also closely watching the race, though it’s unclear whether a big-name candidate would risk challenging Isakson after Michelle Nunn’s eight-point loss this month to David Perdue for an open seat.

Isakson, who trounced Democratic challengers in 2004 and 2010, said he's fully expecting a competitive race.

"When you're a candidate on the ballot in Georgia you always expect opposition," he said Monday. "We just made our announcement early so we can prepare for whatever comes."

He hopes to build his re-election campaign on a message of reforming the federal tax code, balancing the budget and reducing deficit spending. But he said if the Islamic State continues to spread across parts of Iraq and Syria, "terrorism will dominate the race" over the next two years.

Isakson also said he will pitch himself as an "outsider who is an insider" in Georgia, trading on his decades in the state Legislature and Congress.

"I'm a known commodity in this state," he said, adding: "All you've got to do is Google my name and you can find out everything I've ever done - and everything I haven't ever done."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.