The retirement of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) has set off a mad scramble in Georgia politics, with nearly every major Republican in the state mulling a bid to replace him.
“No matter what happens it's going to be a 10-person race,” said Chris Crawford, a spokesman for Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). “There are a lot of folks, not just in the House delegation, looking at the seat, but some people in the state and businessmen who are self-funders.”
Crawford said the open seat is “an opportunity [Kingston] is interested in taking a look at.”
“It's an open process. Primaries are good and healthy, a lot of people are taking a look at it, and we'll see how it shakes out.”
Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Paul Broun (R-Ga.) were mulling bids before Chambliss decided to retire; now that the senator has made it official, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) is considering a run as well. Georgia Republicans who have talked to Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he is eying the seat. Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) is interested in running statewide at some point, GOP sources say, though he may hold out for a later race.
“There are many experienced, conservative leaders in Georgia who would make a good U.S. Senator,” Westmoreland said in a statement. “Over the next several days and weeks my family, friends, supporters and I will determine if I am interested in being a part of that discussion."
"Dr. Price is thankful for the support and encouragement he has received,” said Price spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael. “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.”
If members of the Georgia delegation face-off in a race for the Senate, it will put a number of House seats up for grabs, further roiling politics in the state.
Two well-known Republicans did rule out bids on Friday: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former presidential candidate Herman Cain (R). But those announcements barely narrowed the field.
It’s too early in the game to judge whom would have the best shot at the seat, though Perdue would enter the race with the highest name recognition statewide.
Most of the potential candidates are solid fiscal and social conservatives, meaning the primary might hinge more on fundraising ability, name recognition and geography than Tea Party support.
Gingrey has the most campaign cash of the potential candidates from the House, with $1.9 million in the bank. Price has $1.6 million, Kingston has $1.1 million, Westmoreland has $450,000. Broun has less than $200,000, while Graves has less than $100,000 as of the last reporting period.
A crowded primary field will likely lead to a runoff election, as Georgia state law requires candidates to win 50 percent of the vote. Democrats believe they have a shot in the GOP-leaning state — especially if the late-summer GOP primary turns bloody or nominates a weak candidate.
“It’s a bit of an uphill fight for the Democrat but depending on who the nominees are it could be a good fight,” said former Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), who ruled out a bid of his own in a conversation with The Hill. “If Democrats can put up a nominee who appeals to the middle and Republicans put up somebody who's hard right it could well be a good fight.”
Potential Democratic candidates include Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) and former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes (D).
Barrow, a Blue Dog Democrat who has consistently won in tough, GOP-leaning districts, didn’t completely rule out a run when asked about his plans on Friday.
“At this time I have no plans to run for anything other than reelection in the 12th [congressional] district, but I am certainly gratified that people have been suggesting I run for the Senate,” he said in a statement.
Reed, a popular figure on both sides of the aisle in Atlanta, has said he’s focused on winning reelection this fall. In a statement to The Hill, he said that the day should be focused on Chambliss’s “many contributions to our state and nation rather than to focus on politics.” But he also hasn’t closed the door on a statewide race in the future.
Barnes lost his reelection battle in 2002 and a campaign to return as governor by 10 points in 2010, a terrible year for Democrats nationwide, but would have the instant name recognition and fundraising network to be a viable candidate.
Tharon Johnson, a top Georgia Democratic strategist who has been the campaign manager for both Reed and Barrow and worked on Barnes’s campaigns, said that it was too early to speculate on the possible field.
“Democrats need to take some time and allow this great senator to retire gracefully,” he said.
But Johnson argued that Democrats’ best hope would be to find a ticket for governor and senator that “looks like Georgia” and avoids an expensive and divisive primary.
“Success here for us is possible, but it's going to be a tough road. What we've got to do as a party is do everything we can as a party to identify a candidate we can rally behind to avoid a competitive, bloody, nasty primary like will likely happen on the Republican side,” he said.