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Chambliss Won’t Seek Third Term in 2014

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

Chambliss said in a statement that he was confident he would have won reelection and cited the deteriorating state of Washington politics as his main reason for retiring.

“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 any time soon.”

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.

Chambliss’s departure is a significant blow to the debt-and-deficit hawks on Capitol Hill, because the 69-year-old has devoted much of his policy focus the past few years to trying to fashion a bipartisan pact to tame the federal government’s $16.4 trillion debt. Working closely with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. and other Senate Democrats, Chambliss led a bipartisan group that started off as the self proclaimed “Gang of Six.”

The “Gang” could never win enough support to actually get a vote on their plan and members often quarreled with their respective leadership teams over the risky mix of proposals they were backing.

Chambliss’s drift to becoming a bipartisan broker belied his start in the Senate, where he was initially viewed as a partisan flame-thrower following his tough 2002 victory over then-Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga.. A triple amputee from the war in Vietnam, Cleland lost after Chambliss’s campaign questioned Cleland’s national security credentials in the war against al-Qaida.

The vacancy will likely lead to a scramble among Republicans for Chambliss’s seat. Even before Chambliss announced his retirement, two Republican House members, Paul Broun and Tom Price, as well as former Georgia Secretary of State, Karen Handel, were considering bids.

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain would likely be a front-runner, according to polls, but Cain said yesterday that he would not run. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich also said he won’t run.

Democrats are hoping a wide-open Republican field could lead to the nomination of a weak candidate and give them the chance for another unlikely win. Democrats won races in Indiana and Missouri last November due largely to flawed Republicans who emerged from difficult primaries, repeating a pattern that allowed them to win races in Delaware, Nevada and Colorado in 2010.

“Georgia will now offer Democrats one of our best pickup 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.”