January 25th, 2013
CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash
Washington (CNN) - Saxby Chambliss, the Republican senator from Georgia, said Friday that the "legislative gridlock and partisan posturing" had grown so impenetrable in Washington that he would not seek re-election in 2014,
"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 wrote in a statement announcing his retirement. He pointed to partisan haggling over raising the debt ceiling in 2011, and more recently to the bickering that transpired over a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.
Those incidents "showed Congress at its worst," Chambliss argued, adding his forecast for future dealings between the White House and Congress was bleak.
"I don't see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon," he wrote. "For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy."
A conservative voice in the upper chamber since 2002, Chambliss recently drew the ire of some activists to his right who took issue with his support for bipartisan compromise. He was a member of the "Gang of Six," which tried in 2011 to strike a bipartisan deal on reducing the federal debt.
Most recently, Chambliss broke with anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist by conceding some tax increases are necessary to solve the nation's debt problems, a move that sparked some Republicans to emerge as potential primary challengers in the 2014 election.
Chambliss said Friday those rumblings had nothing to do with his retirement.
"Lest anyone think this decision is about a primary challenge, I have no doubt that had I decided to be a candidate, I would have won re-election," he wrote.
Before becoming a senator, Chambliss served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and before that practiced business and agricultural law in Georgia.
His last election, in 2008, was an unexpectedly close race with Democrat Jim Martin, who was boosted by high turnout among African-Americans also voting for Barack Obama in that year's presidential election. The race went to a runoff, which drew attention and money from national Democrats and Republicans. Chambliss won 57%-43%.
Republicans appear poised to scramble for Chambliss' seat - several potential candidates expressed interest in challenging Chambliss before Friday's retirement news, including two U.S. congressmen from Georgia, Tom Price and Paul Broun. Two additional Georgia representatives, Tom Graves and Phil Gingrey, could also run for Senate.
A spokesman for Price said Friday the congressman "is thankful for the support and encouragement he has received. He is speaking with a number of folks across the state of Georgia and listening to their observations and advice. He'll continue to listen and make a decision and announcement at the appropriate time."
Erick Erickson, the editor of RedState.com and a CNN contributor, expressed interest in Chambliss' seat last year before deciding against a run. Former pizza executive and presidential candidate Herman Cain has also been mentioned as a potential contender for Chambliss' seat, though he denied he was interested in the spot on his radio show Friday.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented Georgia in the U.S. House, also said Friday he wasn't interested in running for Chambliss' seat.
Democrats said Friday that Chambliss' retirement offers "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," Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement. "Regardless, there's no question that the demographics of the state have changed and Democrats are gaining strength. This will be a top priority."
Democrats currently hold a 54-45 majority in the Senate.