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 pledge to boost federal infrastructure spending on Savannah’s port and Atlanta’s airport, reduce the federal deficit and strengthen 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,” Kingston said. “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.
Two early signs of possible storm clouds ahead: The Club For Growth, which finances primary challenges to Republicans it deems insufficiently conservative, 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 conservative activists, gave Isakson a failing 46 percent “Liberty Score.”
Several rising Democratic contenders are closely watching the race, though it’s unclear whether a big-name candidate would risk challenging Isakson with the sting of Michelle Nunn’s eight-point loss to David Perdue still fresh.
Isakson, who handily defeated Democratic challengers in 2004 and 2010, said he’s fully expecting a challenge.
“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.”
Isakson hopes to build his re-election campaign on a message of overhauling 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 of experience 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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