Saxby Chambliss retiring in 2014

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) speaks to members of the media after a hearing in November 2012. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) speaks to members of the media after a hearing in November 2012. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), one of the Republicans most vulnerable to a conservative primary challenge, will retire in 2014 rather than seek a third term.

Chambliss denied in a statement Friday morning that the potential primary was a factor in his decision, saying he was confident he would have won re-election.

“Instead, this is 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," Chambliss said. "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."

The news of Chambliss's retirement was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Two Republican House members, Paul Broun and Tom Price, were considering campaigns against Chambliss. Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel was also interested in the race.

Despite his largely conservative record, Chambliss has attracted conservative ire for his interest in bipartisan compromise. His recent public break with anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist earned him particular scrutiny. He also struggled in the 2008 election, forced into a runoff with Democrat Jim Martin.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another senator vulnerable to a primary challenge, responded with "great sadness and disappointment" to the news of his friend's retirement.

Given how many big names were already interested in the seat, there will almost certainly be a crowded primary. Polling suggests former presidential candidate Herman Cain would be a strong contender, but he said again Friday that he is not running.

Democrats are also expressing interest.

“Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pick-up opportunities of the cycle," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil, noting changing demographics and a potentially divisive GOP primary. "This will be a top priority.” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is considered a top Democratic prospect, along with Rep. John Barrow.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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Rachel Weiner · January 25, 2013