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Saxby's Challengers?

9:20 AM, Nov 21, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Saxby Chambliss, the two-term senior senator from Georgia, could face a Republican primary challenge in 2014.


Activists and donors alike are expressing dissatisfaction with Chambliss for his perceived move to the left on issues like immigration and taxes. And members of Georgia’s House delegation, as reported by Roll Call, like Tom Price, Paul Broun, and Tom Graves, may be considering running against Chambliss in the primary. But GOP and conservative sources say there’s another possible candidate: former secretary of state Karen Handel.

“She’s considering it,” says Rob Simms, a Republican campaign consultant who worked on Handel’s unsuccessful run for governor in 2010. Kay Godwin, the co-chairman of Georgia Conservatives in Action, says Handel is among those she’s hearing who could successfully challenge Chambliss.

Handel lost the GOP nomination by just 2,500 votes to Congressman Nathan Deal, who went on to win the general election. She later served as senior vice president at the Susan G. Komen foundation, which raises money for breast cancer research, and was associated with the organization’s decision in January to cut ties with Planned Parenthood. Komen later reversed this decision, and Handel resigned her position thereafter

The 50-year-old Handel, who hails from Metro Atlanta, maintains a statewide organization of supporters and contacts, which would be critical for challenging the South Georgia-based Chambliss. And the Komen/Planned Parenthood episode burnished Handel’s pro-life credentials, which had been called into question in the gubernatorial primary.

But Handel could be at a fundraising disadvantage. Any of the House members mulling a run could convert their federal election account into a Senate race, and Tom Price, for instance, has more than a million dollars in the bank. Price, 58, was the only Republican House member to endorse Handel over Deal in the 2010 governor’s race, and if the Atlanta-area congressman decides to run for Senate, Handel would likely sit out.

How probable is a Price run? Here’s how the Roll Call story characterizes the situation:

Price, an exceedingly ambitious member and a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, lost an election for GOP conference chairman last week. That’s increased the sense among Peach State insiders that Price might make a move against the senior senator. He had a hefty $1.5 million in his campaign account in mid-October, enough to mount a viable statewide bid. Price and his aides declined to comment for this story.

If either Price or Handel ran, the Republican establishment in Georgia would likely coalesce around Chambliss. Deal, the governor, has sour relationships with both Handel and Price. One rumor is that Deal himself engineered a redrawing of Price’s Sixth District to exclude the governor’s mansion in Atlanta.

Georgia’s junior senator, Johnny Isakson, is also likely to support his Republican colleague. Chambliss and Isakson have almost indistinguishable voting records in the Senate and are personally close; their wives, in fact, were sorority sisters at the University of Georgia.

There is always the possibility, too, that the 69-year-old Chambliss would change his mind and retire rather than seek reelection. He’s been seen as vulnerable ever since 2008, when Chambliss outspent his Democratic opponent by more than 2 to 1 but was nevertheless forced into a runoff. 

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