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A Family Squabble in Georgia

Previewing the coming GOP primary fight to succeed Saxby Chambliss.

6:00 AM, Feb 18, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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“I have some discomfort with all Republican primaries because they’re all family squabbles,” said Tom Price, the 58-year-old Republican House member from north of Atlanta. “My brother and I used to fight almost daily,” Price, the middle child among five brothers and sisters, said. “My mom’s only prayer was, ‘Don’t hurt each other.’”

Georgia

Price will soon be deciding whether he wants to endure a political family squabble. Georgia has a newly open Senate seat, and Price is among several in the GOP strongly considering a bid. But he’s not quite there, yet. “Betty and I, my wife and I, honestly have not made a decision,” he told reporters Friday at a breakfast meeting sponsored by National Review.

Long before Republican Saxby Chambliss announced he wouldn’t seek a third Senate term in 2014, conservatives in the Peach State—particularly a few Republican House members—had already begun testing the waters to challenge him. When the 69-year-old Chambliss announced in January that he would retire rather than face a tough primary, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s top political correspondent, Jim Galloway, predicted the move would “immediately set off an avalanche” of Republicans jumping in. But three weeks later, the race to replace Chambliss is looking more like a slow and steady trickle.

Only two Republican candidates have officially entered the race: Congressman Paul Broun, who had been the most vocal about taking on Chambliss in a primary, and Congressman Jack Kingston, who announced his candidacy on Saturday. In addition to Price, Congressmen Phil Gingrey and Tom Graves are also considering getting in.

“Of course, I’ve talked to all of them and, you know, everybody’s being pretty coy right now,” said Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who has ruled out seeking the Senate seat himself. Other possible Republican candidates are Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and former secretary of state Karen Handel, who lost a close gubernatorial primary in 2010. A new poll of Republican voters released Friday shows Broun with an insignificant lead at 19 percent in a crowded field that included Gingrey (18 percent), Price (17 percent), and Kingston (13 percent). Thirty percent, meanwhile, said they weren't sure.

The Democratic bench for the Senate race is considerably thinner. One rising Democratic star named Kasim Reed, the young black mayor of Atlanta, has already taken himself out of the running. That leaves the only remaining white Democrat in the House delegation, John Barrow, who will have to decide if he’s better off defending his current seat for another cycle or launching a statewide race in a state that has grown increasingly Republican in the last 20 years.

Since 1996, Georgia has voted for the Republican in every presidential election. In 2002, Sonny Perdue won his bid for governor, the first Republican to serve in the office since Reconstruction. That same year, Chambliss defeated incumbent Democratic senator Max Cleland, and in 2004, Republican Johnny Isakson joined Chambliss in the Senate—two of Georgia’s four Republican senators to serve since the 19th century. Perdue was reelected in 2006 and then succeeded by Republican Nathan Deal in 2010. A generation ago, the only Republican in Georgia’s 10-member House delegation was Newt Gingrich. Today, the state has 14 House districts, 9 of them represented by Republicans. But if Georgia still looks like the reliably red state it’s been for the past decade, it may not be so assuredly Republican a decade from now.

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