- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2013

Potential front-runners to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss aren’t ready to officially jump into the race for the Georgia Republican’s seat but they’re not denying interest in the job.

Speculation had persisted the past year of a possible tea party-backed primary challenger in 2014, but Mr. Chambliss‘ announcement Friday that he won’t seek re-election after completing his second term has triggered a scramble for the seat.

House Reps. Tom Price and Paul C. Broun are two early GOP favorites. Georgia has been trending solidly Republican in recent elections.

A Price spokeswoman said he is “speaking with a number of folks across the state of Georgia and listening to their observations and advice.”

“He’ll continue to listen and make a decision and announcement at the appropriate time,” Ellen Carmichael said.

Newt Gingrich, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate, told CNN on Friday that he spoke with Mr. Price earlier in the day and believes he will run for the Senate seat.

The former House speaker from Georgia added he won’t run himself.

Mr. Broun said he is “prayerfully considering my own future” but otherwise gave little hint as to his whether he is considering a Senate run.

“I commend Sen. Chambliss for his role as a true citizen-legislator and his commitment to pass the torch to another who will fight to rein in taxes and government spending so our children and grandchildren can have a better future,” Mr. Broun said.

But Georgia Democrats say Mr. Chambliss‘ retirement presents a “great opportunity” to claim the seat for their party.

“This development gives us the time we need to field an exceptional candidate for the race,” said Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon.

Mr. Berlon said the party began vetting potential candidates months ago but is in no hurry to name a finalist.

He added that with the state’s changing demographics and President Obama receiving more than 45 percent of the vote in November, “there is no question that Georgia is on the way to turning blue.”

Potential Democratic candidates mentioned are Rep. John Barrow, a member of the conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Barrow spokesman Richard Carbo said the congressman is “focused on re-election in the 12th District” and “hasn’t given a Senate run any serious thought, but he’s gratified that folks are suggesting his name.”

Mr. Chambliss said he wasn’t worried about a primary or general election challenger and said he was confident he would have won if he had decided to run.

“Instead, this [decision to step down] 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,” Mr. Chambliss said.

“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.”

Mr. Chambliss, 69, who first was elected to the Senate in 2002 after eight years in the House, said he reached his decision after several weeks of “thought and prayer.” He added he never intended to be a career Washington politician despite spending two decades on Capitol Hill.

The lawmaker has championed conservative positions but drew flak from tea party Republicans for his role in a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Six” that studied ways to lower the deficit. The group’s efforts failed to produce successful legislation.

Mr. Chambliss said one of his greatest honors in Washington was to “champion our men and women in uniform, their families and the Georgia military bases and contractors who create private-sector jobs.”

The Republican, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, vowed to be an active participant in the chamber during his final two years in office.

“There is lots left to do. I am in good health and I plan to continue working hard to represent the best interests of Georgians, and to do my utmost to help restore America to its economic greatness,” he said.