Citing frustration with the White House and Congress, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) announced Friday he would retire at the end of his Senate term.
Chambliss, who has sought to craft a role in Washington as a deal-maker on issues to reduce the debt, said he saw little chance that legislative gridlock on issues central to the nation's fiscal health would end anytime soon.
"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," the senator said in a statement. "For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy."
While Chambliss cited dysfunction in Washington in explaining his decision, it's also true that conservative Republicans had appeared increasingly likely to challenge him in a primary.
Chambliss has had a fairly conservative voting record over the years, but his interest in bipartisan compromise has landed him in hot water with some on the right over the last few years.
Most recently, he said late last year that he was willing to break his pledge to Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform group not to raise taxes if it meant a bipartisan deal could be reached to address deficit spending. The comments led to scorn from conservatives and a war of words with Norquist.
Neither Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) nor Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) had ruled out making a bid against Chambliss, and both are likely to take a hard look at running for the seat.
Broun, a hardline conservative, had been openly mulling a race against him. Price, who has strong national connections with both the Tea Party and establishment wings of the GOP, also refused on Thursday to rule out a run, and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel (R), who lost a GOP primary for governor in 2010, had also been mentioned as a possible opponent.
While the state has long leaned Republican, fast-growing African-American and Latino populations are making it increasingly more friendly to Democrats — Chambliss was forced into a surprise runoff election in 2008. If Democrats can recruit a strong candidate and the GOP runoff proves divisive or delivers a flawed candidate, the seat could be in play.
"Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil said in a statement. "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.”
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) described Chambliss as a "hard-working and thoughtful public servant for Georgia and for our country," and argued Democrats will have "a very uphill battle to try wresting this seat from Republican hands," pointing out that President Obama lost the state by almost 10 points in the last election.
"While we take no race for granted, I look forward to the debate between a Republican candidate who believes in reining-in wasteful Washington spending, growing jobs and protecting the Second Amendment, versus a liberal Democrat who will be a loyal rubber-stamp for President Obama in Washington," Moran said in a statement.
Here's Chambliss's full statement:
“After much contemplation and reflection, I have decided not to run for re-election to the Senate in 2014.
This is a decision Julianne and I have thought through and prayed about for many weeks. I am humbled by and grateful for the extraordinary trust of Georgians, who have allowed me to represent them for 20 years in the United States House and Senate.
I am proud of my conservative voting record in fulfilling those duties. In 2008, I was honored to receive more votes than any other statewide elected official in the history of Georgia. Lest anyone think this decision is about a primary challenge, 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.
I never intended to come to Washington and stay for 20 years. But in that time, I have been proud to fight for the economic good of Georgia and the security of our nation. That includes work on four farm bills, 18 defense-authorization bills, chairmanship of the House Terrorism Subcommittee in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and being chairman or ranking member of major Senate committees for 8 of the past 10 years.
Perhaps the greatest honor has been to champion our men and women in uniform, their families, and the Georgia military bases and contractors who create private-sector jobs.
I am truly grateful for the love, support, trust and assistance of family and friends who have helped me along the way. I am especially indebted to my staff – past and present – whose loyalty and knowledge have not only served me well, but have served the people of Georgia superbly.
There are two years left in my term, and 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.”
—This story was posted at 9:52 a.m. and updated at 12:04 p.m.