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Analysis: Chambliss bows out, others rush in

But history shows earlier leaders often fade in Ga. politics

Associated Press
Chambliss announced Friday, he will not seek a third term next year, saying "this is about frustration" with Washington gridlock that he doesn't see changing in a divided government.
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 1:21 PM
Last updated Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 7:02 AM
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ATLANTA -- Saxby Chambliss spoiled the weekend for a lot of Georgia politicians with his Friday announcement that he would retire from the U.S. Senate next year rather than seek re-election.

Since word leaked out after he notified his staff and colleagues, people who picture themselves as Senate material have been contacting potential supporters to gauge whether to enter the race. Their decisions will create a domino effect as lower-rung officials decide to move up to fill vacancies created by Senate candidates.

It’s not as though people weren’t already thinking about the seat. Conservatives had vowed to mount a primary challenge against him, and a telephone poll was in the field the night before his announcement on behalf of an undisclosed Democratic candidate testing Chambliss’ political strengths and weaknesses.

After the news, the first candidates to publicly express interest in running were GOP U.S. Reps. Jack Kingston of Savannah, Paul Broun of Athens and Tom Price of Roswell.

Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010 expressed slightly less specific sentiment on her Facebook account that evening.

“Thx to everyone for your encouragement,” she wrote. “Let’s see how things play out.”

Among the first calls any Georgia Republican hopeful makes is one to Eric Tanenblatt, a managing director of the lobbying side of Atlanta law firm McKenna Long and then-Gov. Sonny Perdue’s first chief of staff.

Not only does he lead the well-connected firm’s national government affairs group, but he is one of the top political fund raisers in the state, which, of course, is part of the reason for his influence. Most recently, he was Mitt Romney’s Georgia chairman, raising a record $19 million here, having played similar roles for both Presidents Bush.

He took a few minutes Friday afternoon between candidate calls to chat with a reporter, another reason for his influence in state politics. He began by praising Chambliss as a hard worker who has been a leader in two major areas for 20 years, national intelligence and agriculture, and for working across the aisle with Democrats.

“I’m sure it’s been very frustrating for him,” Tanenblatt said, noting that he had not read the senator’s announcement that listed annoyance with partisan gridlock as his reason for retiring.

As Chambliss throws up his hands in resignation, there is no shortage of candidates eager to take on the chore. Major donors are just as put out with Washington and eager to back someone feeling the same way, Tanenblatt said.

“They couldn’t wait for a more exciting development. Everything’s been turned upside down,” he said.

There is an understandable urge to get a head start, become the frontrunner and lock up endorsements and contributors. But Tanenblatt counsels for calm.

“People need to step back and understand there’ll be plenty of time.”

After all, the last governor’s race illustrates how fluid a campaign is. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was considered the frontrunner the moment Perdue won a second term, but Cagle eventually decided to keep his own job. Eric Johnson of Savannah, the Senate president pro tempore at the time, reacted to Cagle’s decision by moving from the lieutenant governor’s race to the top spot, earning himself predictions that his savvy and contacts would make him a formidable contender.

However, for much of the early campaign, then-Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine led polls and fundraising, but he failed to make it to the primary runoff when Handel edged him and Johnson out.

The ultimate winner, Nathan Deal, was the last candidate to enter the race.

Those jockeying to be first out of the starting gate in the Senate contest should keep a clear head, Tanenblatt advises.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be the only ones in this race,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if you didn’t find someone outside of the political scene, in the business community, didn’t jump into the race.”

Tanenblatt offers informed insight about the thinking of major campaign donors. With no clear shoo-in, they are inclined to take their time deciding whom they’ll back.

That is a valuable vetting process as illustrated by the 2002 gubernatorial race when then-Superintendent of Schools Linda Schrenko fell short in their scrutiny and failed to raise enough money to fuel her campaign against Perdue. Their judgment was confirmed when she pleaded guilty to federal embezzlement charges.

Since the big givers are concentrated in metro Atlanta, does geography give an advantage to one candidate, say a Price or a Handel over a Broun or a Kingston?

Not necessarily, Tanenblatt says. Political longevity can neutralize it.

“For those that don’t live in the Atlanta area, if you have been around the public eye for a while, I think that benefits you.”

The Tea Party and general grassroots activism is also rewriting the traditional political scripts, he adds.

As a result, little that will be reported in the next few days is likely to determine the eventual outcome in November, 2014. But, it will be a good show.

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scoopdedoop64 01/26/13 - 03:15 pm
Enough of Professional Politicians

Enough with the professional politicians. We need to find a way for common everyday people with common sense to head to Washington. Did you know I looked for about 20 minutes and could not find any information on how one would even apply to be put on the ballot. Yes, I know a few of the basic requirements but where do you go once you obtain signatures to be put on the ballot? How many do you need? I am not planning to run but here is my point the common man can't even hardly find the rules unless he goes to the board of elections to obtain what must be done. It should be easier for a common person who is willing to serve to get themselves on the ballot and run a campaign.

Riverman1 01/26/13 - 03:27 pm
Paul Broun

Not that he's my man, but Paul Broun will get the nomination and end up Senator.

Jake 01/26/13 - 03:29 pm
Common man

Basically, the "common man" has about as much of a chance to get elected as the proverbial snowball has a chance of surviving in hell. Unless of course your "common man" is backed by big money, then in which case your "common man" is not common anymore but a tool of the existing special interests and lobbyists. It is the system, the fix has been in place for quite a while.

Herenow2say 01/26/13 - 03:38 pm

Praying fervently for a Paul Broun nomination. He will end up sitting on the bench with Akin and Murdoch and the Dems will claim a Southern Senate Seat. As Bobby Jindal says, they're the stupid party. As long as that continues, 2012 will become repetitious.

Lee Benedict
Lee Benedict 01/26/13 - 10:47 pm
Anyone will be an improvement

I was so delighted to hear that Georgia's junior RINO was leaving. Both of our senators talk conservative and then vote for the bailout, Eric Holder's confirmation, ethanol, and the fiscal cliff thing to name a few...not to mention their support of amnesty.

Chances are that a Republican will win, and if it's Paul Broun, Austin Scott, or Maria Sheffield, I will be happy. Since this is a statewide contest, Sheffield has the best chance of the three.

John Barrow, or John Barrah, depending on what part of the state he's targeting, has to know he will lose his current position if the GOP nominates someone who can string along a sentence and has a campaign staff worth something. That being the case, he may run for the senate along with what's his name Reed of Atlanta and whoever ran against the senior RINO in 2010. And then we have Cynthia McKinney and Ray McBerry who may hop in and run on one ticket or another.

avidreader 01/27/13 - 09:43 am
The Golden Touch!

NEVER cast Barrow into the ranks of the "don't have a chance". He's got something going on, or he would not have won elections over a period of three district moves that would have crippled most politicians. I voted for Barrow -- although I really voted against Anderson.

If Barrow takes the senate slot, this will leave Copenhaver open to jump into the congressional seat. Copenhaver's popularity is a huge deal. He's the dandy boy with the gracious smile, and he's actually very nice.

Lee Benedict
Lee Benedict 01/27/13 - 12:47 pm
I'll give you Barrow's

I'll give you Barrow's ability to withstand challenges...he's one slick smooth lawyer. But Deke? Although he is a nice guy, he has no spine and refuses to take a stand. In short, who knows what he'll do in the US House, and that being the case, I will never support him. Wish him well? Yes. But support or endorse him? Unt uh.

If Barrow runs for the senate, the CD12 race will be an entertaining free for all with good ol' boys coming out of the woodwork.

Austin Rhodes
Austin Rhodes 01/27/13 - 01:47 pm

Wanna bet?

SemperParatus 01/27/13 - 07:47 pm
Austin is right...

No way Broun could aspire to the upper chamber. And I'd take Joe Bowles over Deke Copenhaver in any scenario.

itsanotherday1 01/27/13 - 08:56 pm
Dittos to the last two posts.

Dittos to the last two posts. Broun is a far right nutball. I just don't see him winning a senate seat. Voters are (or should be) running away from people like him.

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