Republican State Sen. Jim Whitehead will run for the 10th District Congressional seat vacated by the death of U.S. Congressman Charlie Norwood.
"I'm running," Mr. Whitehead said. "I'm in it. I am committed to running."
Mr. Whitehead will hold a news conference at the Columbia County government complex at 10 a.m. Monday to talk about the details of his campaign.
State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who has said privately he wants to run, stopped short of announcing Friday.
"I appreciate the interest everybody has shown in me, but I do not want to discuss that now," he said. "I'll wait until next week to talk about that out of respect for Congressman Norwood and his family."
The idea of two of Columbia County's most powerful Republican lawmakers running against each other doesn't sit well with party leaders.
"As it is now, we have two powerful individuals in the state Legislature, Rep. Barry Fleming, who is majority whip, and state Rep. Ben Harbin, chairman of the Appropriations Committee that handles all the money," Richmond County Republican Party Chairman Dave Barbee said.
"In the Senate, we have Sen. Jim Whitehead, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate."
If Mr. Fleming or Mr. Whitehead steps down, Mr. Harbin would be the most senior legislator from either Richmond or Columbia County, he said.
Mr. Harbin, R-Evans, has said he is not running.
Republican Sen. Ralph Hudgens, R-Comer has announced. Former Athens-Clarke County Mayor Doc Eldridge, a Republican, and former Athens-Clarke Commissioner Tom Chasteen, a Democrat, are both considering a run.
The name of former University of Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley has also surfaced, but his wife, Barbara, who ran for the 12th Congressional District seat in 2002, said she can only speak for herself.
"I am not running," she said. "I am through with this mess, and Vince won't answer me. What does that tell you? I don't know."
Thomson jeweler Terry Holley, a Democrat who ran against Mr. Norwood in November and lost, is running.
Richmond County Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum said Mr. Holley continued to campaign after the election because of Mr. Norwood's illness.
"He has circulated throughout the district in various counties and has visited black churches," Dr. Greenbaum said.
Dr. Greenbaum also said U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the national Democratic Campaign Committee are very interested in the district and will be supporting the best candidate.
Dr. Ralph Walker, Augusta State University political scientist, said he doesn't think a Democrat can win in the Republican 10th District.
"It's a strong district," he said. "Obviously, the Republicans are going to win in a runoff. You never say never in politics, but I would be amazed if a Democrat won."
Dr. Walker said if Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Fleming both run, they would split Columbia County.
"And then there's Bob Young, who has name recognition," he said of the former Augusta mayor. "I think Bob would be a strong candidate."
Mr. Young has been noncommittal on the subject, saying only that now is not the time to talk about filling the seat.
Merle Black, a professor of politics at Emory University, also predicted a runoff between Republicans.
"You'd think they would be interested to consolidate resources behind a single individual, but sometimes individual ambition trumps party affiliation," Dr. Black said.
And there are 12 years of pent-up ambition in people who wanted to run for the 10th District seat but recognized they couldn't defeat Mr. Norwood, said Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.
"A lot of people are interested in running for that seat," he said. "My expectation is Barry Fleming will get into it. There is a cost involved to give up your current seat, but for some it might be their last shot or best shot. Barry is young, so this might be his best shot.
"For Ralph Hudgens and Jim Whitehead, who are older, this might be their last chance."
Henry "Chip" Carey, an associate professor of political science at Georgia State University, said the pattern is for a political party to rally around a single candidate and discourage others from running.
"The governor and others will push to have others bow out to the one anointed by the powers behind the throne," he said.
Nationally, there won't be a lot of pressure from the other party because it is a Republican district, Dr. Carey said.
Gov. Sonny Perdue must issue a writ within 10 days from the date the seat was vacated. The writ sets the date for the election, which cannot be held earlier than 30 days after the writ is issued.
If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held four weeks after the election.
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON THE BALLOT
Candidates who have officially announced include:
- State Sen. Jim Whitehead
- State Sen. Ralph Hudgens
- Thomson jeweler Terry Holley