Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said Friday that he would retire from the Senate… (Cliff Owen / Associated…)
WASHINGTON — Citing his frustration with gridlock in Washington, Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said Friday he will not seek reelection.
Chambliss’ decision to step down ensures a battle for the seat by Republicans who were already considering a primary challenge to the 69-year-old incumbent. Chambliss is one of the so-called “Gang of Six” senators trying to produce a bipartisan solution to the nation’s debt and deficit problems.
In a statement, Chambliss said he was "proud of my conservative voting record," and denied he feared a challenge from the right.
"I have no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won reelection. In these difficult political times, I am fortunate to have actually broadened my support around the state and the nation due to the stances I have taken," he said.
Instead, he said his decision was "about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nation’s economic health."
"The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff vote showed Congress at its worst and, sadly, I don’t see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon. For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy," he said.
While the Republican field is expected to be broad, it is less clear whether Democrats can mount a strong challenge in a Republican-dominated state. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a statement that Chambliss’ seat represents “one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle.”
“There are already several reports of the potential for a divisive primary that will push Republicans to the extreme right,” executive director Guy Cecil said. “Regardless, there’s no question that the demographics of the state have changed and Democrats are gaining strength.”
Georgia’s election laws may help Republicans avoid one of the pitfalls of the 2012 elections, which saw hard-right candidates win party primaries but prove less palatable to general election voters. Georgia requires a runoff election if no candidate receives 50% of the vote, making it less likely a candidate with narrow appeal wins in a crowded field.
Chambliss first won his Senate seat in a bitter 2002 election battle against incumbent Democrat Max Cleland. He won reelection in 2008, but only after a runoff vote.
Chambliss joins West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller as senators facing reelection in 2014 who have already announced plans to retire.
Thirty-five Senate seats will be contested in the midterm elections: Democrats currently hold 21 and Republicans 14. That includes the seat currently held by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is expected to be confirmed soon as secretary of State. Massachusetts will hold a special election later this year to fill that vacancy, and the winner will face voters again in November 2014.
Democrats are expected to be on the defensive in the 2014 elections. Seven Democratic incumbents are running for reelection in states that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012.
But several Republicans could also be in for tough fights. They include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who could face a high-profile general election battle against actress Ashley Judd, who is considering a run.