Updated 12:05 p.m. | Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, 69, announced Friday that he will not seek a third term in 2014.
In a statement, Chambliss denied that his decision had anything to do with the likelihood that he would draw a challenger from the right in 2014. Instead, he insisted that the partisan gridlock in Congress, particularly surrounding fiscal issues, was the reason for his retirement. Chambliss has been a key member of the bipartisan "gang of six," which sought to forge a bipartisan solution to the nation's debt and deficit problems.
"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," Chambliss said.
He continued, "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."
His announcement sets up a furious scramble for an open seat in a red state trending blue. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the news of Chambliss' retirement.
Some of the top prospects in the GOP primary were already considered potential Chambliss opponents: Reps. Tom Price, Paul Broun and Tom Graves. GOP Rep. Phil Gingrey, who has a substantial war chest but earlier said he would not challenge Chambliss, could also run. Other names mentioned by Georgia GOP insiders as potential candidates include Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens.
On the Democratic side, the two early top recruits for national Democrats would be Kasim Reed, the business-friendly Atlanta mayor with a national profile, and conservative Blue Dog Rep. John Barrow.
“Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle,” Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, 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.”
President Barack Obama won 46 percent of the vote in Georgia in 2012.