Johnny Isakson, the two-term senator from Georgia, has been talking for nearly a year about running for reelection, and he officially announced his intention to run just days after last November’s midterm election. And when the 70-year-old Republican announced on Wednesday that he has Parkinson’s disease, he indicated he wasn’t letting his diagnosis change his mind on politics, telling reporters he will “continue to pursue the election in 2016.”
“Anybody that follows me around for a week in Washington will recognize it’s not a debilitating situation. It’s a matter of me being in charge and I’m in charge,” Isakson said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m looking forward to re-election, looking forward to whatever challenge comes about and I’m tanned, rested and ready as Richard Nixon used to say.”
Peach State Republicans say Isakson’s determination to run doesn’t come as a shock.
“Isakson is probably the most popular and well-liked political leader in the state right now,” says Joel McElhannon, an Athens-based political consultant. “It will clearly be his last term, but he has earned the respect of so many that virtually everyone in the political class in Georgia is supportive.”
“I’m not surprised Johnny is running for another six years,” says Eric Tanenblatt, a veteran Republican activist in Atlanta. “He has been one of the hardest working public servants in our state and I anticipate he will continue to be.”
“Georgia Republicans love Johnny Isakson as evidenced by the fact that no one of any merit has stepped forward to challenge him from the right or left,” says Jay Morgan, a longtime Republican consultant in Georgia who has worked on Isakson’s past Senate races. “If anyone thinks there’s an opening after today, they will only be one more in a line of pretenders who have underestimated him.”
An Atlanta-area realtor and member of the U.S. House, Isakson ran for the Senate successfully in 2004, winning reelection easily in 2010. He had been close with fellow Georgia Republican senator Saxby Chambliss, who came to the Senate two years before Isakson.
Chambliss did not seek a third term in 2014 and retired from the Senate this year. The sometimes-acrimonious GOP primary fight for Chambliss’s seat cleared half of the Republican House bench, all while a political novice, businessman David Perdue, went on to win both the nomination and the general election. Georgia Republican insiders say a similar decision by Isakson to not seek reelection might have caused another party-destablizing free-for-all primary. Many Democrats see Georgia as an emerging swing state, and Republicans could have reason to worry if forced to defend an open Senate seat in a presidential year.
All of which may explain Isakson's decision to run for a third term. And while there were rumblings for months that Chambliss could face a primary challenge if he had run, there appears to be no serious challengers to Isakson on the Republican side. Even with his diagnosis, Isakson appears in a better-than-good electoral position.
“If it was an uphill climb, I doubt he'd pull the trigger with his health this way. But clearly he's confident,” says one Georgia Republican consultant.