- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, under fire for cooperating with Democrats on a compromise energy plan, made another call to a conservative talk radio show Monday to defend himself.

“People voted for me in 2002 to go to the Senate to solve problems - not have campaign issues to deal with,” the Georgia Republican told host Neal Boortz on Atlanta’s WSB radio station.

On Friday, Mr. Chambliss made a similar call to the nationally syndicated Rush Limbaugh radio show after the host suggested the incumbent was undermining Republicans politically by joining with Democrats.

The brouhaha began after Mr. Chambliss announced Aug. 1 he was a founder of the “Gang of 10,” a group of five Republicans and five Democrats that is advocating a compromise to promote both oil drilling and alternative fuels.

Georgia’s other Republican senator, Johnny Isakson, is a Gang of 10 member, too. But Mr. Isakson has a long-standing reputation for seeking compromises to secure legislation. Moreover, he is not up for re-election.

But Mr. Chambliss is running for a second Senate term this fall. He defeated Sen. Max Cleland in 2002 after serving four House terms. The 64-year-old incumbent is facing Democrat Jim Martin in a race that the respected Cook Political Report rates as “solid Republican.”

But Mr. Boortz chastised Mr. Chambliss for hurting other Republicans who are trying to win support in tougher races by accusing Democrats of causing high oil prices. “The Republicans had a winning issue - that I think y’all just knocked the props out, from right underneath ‘em,” said Mr. Boortz, whose station is a corporate relative of Cox News Service.

Those comments echoed what Mr. Limbaugh said to Mr. Chambliss on Friday. “Finally, Senator McCain had an issue the Republicans could embarrass [Democratic presidential candidate Barack] Obama with and perhaps ride to victory, because the vast majority of the American people want to do the opposite of what the Democrats do,” Mr. Limbaugh said. “So nobody can figure out why compromise with the Democrats and cut the knees off of Senator McCain.”

Even some members of Georgia’s congressional delegation are opposed to the Gang of 10. On Saturday, Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, declared that Mr. Chambliss and Mr. Isakson are on the wrong track.

“While I respect our senators’ desire to find legislation that reaches consensus with Senate Democrats, the American people are more interested in lower gas prices than in Senate procedural pleasantries,” Mr. Gingrey said in a statement. “For far too long, this Congress has accepted ‘compromise’ energy legislation and look what it has got us - $4 gasoline.”

In a phone interview, Mr. Chambliss, who was campaigning in south Georgia on Monday, said that while some people had been calling his office to complain about his position, far more were supportive.

“As I went around the state all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday … people were saying to me, ‘You guys are doing the right thing’” by trying to break the stalemate over energy, he said.

Because of Senate parliamentary rules, almost no legislation can pass without significant bipartisan support. Mr. Chambliss said he is explaining to constituents that to win the right to drill for more oil, Republicans will have to agree to some Democratic demands for greater support for alternative fuels.

“Once people got the real facts, they say, ‘That’s not so bad,’” he said.

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