Departure of GOP congressmen could hurt delegation's D.C. clout

The departure of U.S. Reps. Nathan Deal and John Linder from the Georgia congressional delegation will probably not change the political makeup of the group -- unless there is a seismic shift, the delegation will still be majority Republican.

However, the overall impact of the delegation could be affected, especially if Republicans retake the U.S. House in November.

Deal, the 9th District congressman from Georgia's mountains, and Linder, the 7th District congressman from Gwinnett County, have both announced plans to leave the House. Linder will serve out his term, and Deal will leave at the end of this month to focus on his gubernatorial bid.

Both are 18-year veterans of the House, and both could have been tapped for pivotal committee roles if Republicans retake the chamber in the 2010 midterm elections.

“The delegation will lose a bit of the punch it would have had if they’d stayed on,” University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said. “And that is very useful for getting things done for Georgia in Washington.”

Deal serves on the Commerce Committee and Linder on Ways and Means. If the GOP becomes the House majority, Deal would have at least moved to a subcommittee chairmanship, Bullock said.

Whoever replaces the lawmakers will enter the chamber as freshmen, thereby limiting the overall impact of the delegation, Bullock said.

At least nine Republicans have expressed interest in Deal’s seat, including state Sen. Lee Hawkins of Gainesville,  state Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger and state Rep Bobby Reese of Sugar Hill. The only Democrat to declare for the seat has been Mike Freeman, the current chairman of the Hall County Democratic Party.

“I am not worried about us retaining that seat,” said Doug Grammer, the Republican chairman for the 9th District. “We are hoping to gain ground in other parts of the state and the nation.”

Linder’s decision creates a vacancy in what is also believed to be a safe Republican district, though its demographics are changing.

State Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville),  state Rep. Clay Cox (R-Lilburn), Gwinnett Republican Chairman Chuck Efstration, state Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross) and Tom Kirby of Loganville are all possible candidates. Balfour and Cox have already announced.

Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed has also expressed an interest in the job but has not announced his intentions.