The news that U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss wont run in 2014 for a third Senate term brought local praise for his support of Robins Air Force Base and touched off a statewide flurry of speculation about who might run to succeed him.
Hes been an excellent senator for Georgia, said Jim Marshall, former Macon mayor and a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2003 to 2011 who is now president and CEO of the U.S. Institute of Peace. I have no doubt that if he had chosen to seek another term, Georgians would have sent him back to Congress again.
He was great to work with when I was a member of Congress, and I feel like we got an awful lot accomplished together that neither of us could have accomplished separately. I count him as a friend.
Marshall said he already has been getting inquiries about whether he would run for Chambliss seat, but he quickly quashed them. Though he might have a pretty good shot, Marshall recently made a three-year commitment to the Institute of Peace and will honor that, he said.
CNN political commentator Erick Erickson, a former Macon city councilman who is the editor of RedState.com and is a Telegraph columnist, said Chambliss, R-Ga., already was looking at primary challenges and has been acting for several months as though he wasnt going to run again.
The sort of bipartisan dealmaking Chambliss has taken part in is usually not done by politicians concerned about facing voters again, Erickson said.
I would say its significant in that hes probably the last person from south Georgia that will ever be a United States senator, he said.
Chambliss lives in Moultrie, about 130 miles south of Macon. Given the population shift to north Georgia and the rise of the Atlanta business culture, the south Georgia farm culture that Chambliss came from is unlikely to produce another dominant statewide figure, Erickson said.
Also Friday, former Robins commanders praised Chambliss as a staunch friend, always willing to protect the base.
During the last round of base closures and cutbacks, Chambliss intervened directly with Air Force brass to head off several changes that would have hit Robins hard, said retired Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard, a former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center.
His innate understanding of national security and defense issues has been critical to the success of this region and our national defense, retired Maj. Gen. Bob McMahon, president and CEO of the 21st Century Partnership, said in a statement released Friday.
Chambliss said hes frustrated by lack of action from the White House and Congress alike on fiscal issues. He is one of a bipartisan Gang of Six that sought to reach agreement on dealing with the federal deficit, and he has been criticized for that by the right wing of his own party.
That collegiality with Democrats drew praise from U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., who said Chambliss announcement came as a surprise.
I will certainly miss working with him on a bipartisan basis on issues affecting Georgia and our nation such as agriculture, national defense, fiscal responsibility, and our economic recovery, Bishop said in a statement. Sen. Chambliss is a thoughtful and courageous public servant who puts the good of the country before party politics.
Beyond the praise, names quickly emerged for potential senatorial contenders.
Erickson himself told radio listeners last year that he was considering challenging Chambliss, but he rejected that idea soon after his initial comments on the subject last fall and again on Friday.
That is absolutely not going to happen, he said. The replacements that Ive heard about, the people possibly running, are Paul Broun, Karen Handel and Jack Kingston. I think the name most widely touted is Tom Price.
Broun, Kingston and Price are all Republican members of Congress, from Athens, Savannah and Roswell, respectively. Handel is a former Georgia secretary of state and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate who spent a controversial 10 months at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation. She quit after pushing to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood cancer screenings.
Many more names are sure to pop up in the coming year or so, Erickson said.
The interesting thing in my mind is that there really isnt an heir apparent (for Chambliss), so to speak, Erickson said. But if any of those congressmen get in, there are heirs apparent pretty well established for all of those people.
Georgia Democrats immediately announced they would try to capture Chambliss seat, figuring a divisive Republican primary and changing demographics might give them a chance.
Its hard to imagine a strong Democratic candidate, but it is possible, said Charles Bullock, head of the political science department at the University of Georgia.
Anytime theres an open seat, that does open the door a bit further for a member of the minority party, he said.
Bullock does foresee a large Republican field, which could provoke a chain reaction of lower-level primaries statewide as members of the U.S. House run for Senate, and General Assembly members in turn seek the resulting open seats in the House.
We may have quite a ripple effect, he said.
Bullock also mentioned Broun and Price as possible contenders, plus Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta. Handel is a close ally of Price, so if he runs for Senate, she might seek his House seat instead of challenging him directly, Bullock said.
Even Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, might run, he said. If successful, Graves could look forward to a long senatorial career.
He is about a generation younger than those members of Congress weve talked about, Bullock said.
Middle Georgians are sure to watch the fight closely, given Chambliss record of strong support for military facilities like Robins.
Goddard said hes absolutely concerned about who might fill Chambliss seat.
People will be running for that seat from all over the state, he said. Many candidates may have no connection with the military and may focus on different issues, Goddard said.
Chambliss successor needs to understand the importance of Robins to this area, and the vast impact numerous military bases have on Georgia in general, in order to safeguard those assets, he said.
Chambliss legacy maybe still needs to be written and could be very different if he and the rest of the Gang of Six reach a deficit-reduction deal, Bullock said.
That is what hes been working on. That is whats made his re-election somewhat more difficult than it would have otherwise been. But if it comes about, it will be a major change in the economic direction our countrys going, Bullock said. Itll be a major change in our public policy.
To contact writer, Jim Gaines call 744-4489.