U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss won't seek third term

Says frustration with Washington drove him out

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the leader of a bipartisan effort to address the federal deficit, this morning pointed to gridlock in Washington for his decision not to seek a third term in 2014.

A statement just released by his office includes this:

“I have no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won re-election. 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.

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

In a conference call with supporters that he just completed, Chambliss didn’t detail the reasons for his departure, but reviewed a career that included authorship of four farm bills and 18 defense authorization bills, during two terms in the Senate and several years in the U.S. House.

“I’m going to have a life after this,” Chambliss said. “Sitting on a back porch drinking whisky with some of y’all is exciting to think about.”

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Gov. Nathan Deal said that U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss called him this morning to inform him of his decision. “I told him to make sure he served out his full term because I didn’t want to appoint someone,” Deal told my AJC colleague Greg Bluestein. The governor assured Chambliss would do so.

Chambliss’ announcement will immediately set off an avalanche of Republican candidates who will seek to replace him.

At least two GOP House members from Georgia, Paul Broun of Athens and Tom Price of Roswell, have been contemplating primary challenges to Chambliss, who has been criticized for leading the bipartisan “Gang of Six” effort to broker a deal to address a $16 trillion federal deficit.

Chambliss and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., are scheduled to speak Monday on coming fiscal negotiations during a joint appearance at the University of Georgia.

Both Chambliss and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson had voted this month for the Senate-negotiated deal that avoided the “fiscal cliff” imposed by a 2011 fight over the federal debt ceiling. All Republican House members from Georgia voted against it.

A decision from Price is expected sooner rather than later. More members of Congress – including Phil Gingrey of Roswell and Tom Graves of Ranger – are certain to consider the race now that it lacks an incumbent. In the state Capitol, one name has already popped up — that of state Sen. Ross Tolleson, a Republican who hails from former U.S. senator Sam Nunn’s home town of Perry.

Talk radio host Herman Cain, a GOP candidate for president who began his political career in Georgia with a 2004 run for the U.S. Senate, quickly removed himself from consideration this morning. But don’t rule out former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Chambliss’ withdrawal could also awaken Georgia Democrats from the torpor they’ve been in since losing the governor’s office in 2002. This statement comes from Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:

“Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle. 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.”

U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Augusta has said he wasn’t interested in challenging Chambliss. Whether or not that disinterest applies to an open seat may be another matter. State Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, may be another name to add to the mix.

Chambliss had offered a hint that he was wavering earlier this month. From a quote in a column written by my AJC colleague Kyle Wingfield, who had asked him if the curdled atmosphere in Washington made him think twice about a third term:

“This is an eight-year decision for me. It’s two years [campaigning] plus six years” in office, he said. “And if I thought the next eight years were going to be filled with contentious debates and the wrong way to govern that we have just gone through in the last two months, it would have a significant impact on my decision. But yeah, right now my plans are to run.”

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