WASHINGTON — Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss will not run for a third term next year, avoiding a likely fight with the tea party for the Republican nomination, a congressional aide said Friday.
Chambliss, 69, has been a GOP loyalist for much of his House and Senate career, but he earned the wrath of some in his party for participating in a bipartisan Senate “Gang of Six” intent on finding a way to reduce the deficit. The group advocated a mix of tax increases and spending cuts but failed to reach agreement.
Although no major Republican candidate had announced a challenge of Chambliss, he was facing the distinct possibility of a tough race.
Chambliss was expected to make a formal announcement. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak in advance of an official statement.
Chambliss’s decision is certain to set off a GOP scramble for the seat. Among the potential Republican candidates are four-term Rep. Tom Price from a district north of Atlanta. Pizza mogul Herman Cain, the failed presidential candidate in 2012 and a tea party favorite, may also set his sights on the Senate seat.
Chambliss was first elected to the House in the 1994 Republican wave. He moved up to the Senate after a rough 2002 campaign in which he defeated Democratic incumbent Max Cleland, a triple amputee from his Vietnam war service.
He was criticized for his slashing campaign against Cleland, against whom he ran an ad featuring terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that criticized the Democrat — a decorated Vietnam War veteran — for his record on defense and homeland security issues. Even some of Chambliss’ fellow Republicans said it went too far.
Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Democrats will try to win back the seat.
“Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle. 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.”