Matthew Towery: Would Gingrich challenge Chambliss?

Column by MATTHEW TOWERY
Special to The Newnan Times-Herald
Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., was on cruise control to win a 2014 bid for re-election until he made a comment on a station in Macon that ignited a political firestorm.
In essence, Chambliss hedged on a prior pledge never to raise taxes, stating that in light of the "fiscal cliff" the country is facing, his devotion to the nation was more important than a 20-year-old statement or pledge. That's when the fireworks started.
The first to seize on the comment was tax-fighting lobbyist Grover Norquist, who suggested that voters in the Peach State should hold Chambliss to his promise. But since Norquist comes from that insular world that is the D.C. bubble, most voters in Georgia have no idea who he is or what he was talking about. His statement really only managed to rile the rest of the D.C. bubble, causing pushback from several other Republican leaders who now view Norquist as more of a negative than a positive.
Both Norquist and his detractors often seem to have little concept of the reality of everyday politics outside of the Beltway. Perhaps had Norquist been more effective, a Republican president would be taking the oath of office in January. But just because the presidential race went against him, those who eschew Norquist need to think twice before they attack him or the broader concepts he espouses.
That's because all politics is retail. Thus enter a host of relatively big Georgia names that quickly floated about as Republican primary challengers to Chambliss. Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, who lost in a vicious race against now popular incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, was among the first names to be mentioned in the media. But prior to any mention of Handel, conservative GOP Rep. Tom Price, who represents the GOP voter-rich northern suburbs of Atlanta, was considered a possible Chambliss opponent.
Within a week, even bigger names were being mentioned.
In the case of founder of the popular conservative blog "Red State" founder Eric Erickson, the mention came from ... Erickson himself. On a radio show he hosts (on the same station that launched Herman Cain), Erickson stated he had received some calls that later turned into "people pledging a lot of money." He switched from adamantly against running to "at least considering it."

And the names don't stop there. While the national press bit on a Newt Gingrich hint that he might run for president again in 2016, they missed the fact that the same issue of paying off his considerable debt from the 2012 bid -- a problem for another presidential race -- might disappear should he choose to serve in the U.S. Senate as the best known and most influential freshman in U.S. history.

Gingrich is reportedly telling Chambliss intimates not to worry -- that is, for now. But with his huge name identification and a recent Georgia presidential primary win under his belt, early polling would not only show Gingrich ahead of Chambliss, but by a wide enough margin to have money that would otherwise go early on toward a Senate bid instead to debt retirement. Additional donations would go toward taking on Chambliss.

There are just too many intangibles at the moment to determine whether Chambliss really is vulnerable to any GOP primary opponent (Democrats are another issue, but are likely six or more years away from winning a major statewide contest in Georgia). Chief among those intangibles is the mood of the public, both now and in two years.

As of now, the public is likely to be led a bit more toward the middle -- responding to the inevitable "crisis" and typical market tailspin that now is part of the necessary drama needed in Washington to rush through a "compromise" solution at the eleventh hour.

The greater issue will be in the spring of 2014. If the economy is strong and people have adjusted to any changes made as a result of some tax compromise -- then Chambliss and others will sail to re-election. This is particularly true if, in the process of creating a compromise, Chambliss saves the defense industry and set military cuts that would impact his state.

But if the so-called economic recovery fails to materialize or a "grand compromise" ends up with negative unintended consequences, Chambliss and many of his colleagues up for re-election could face a really hot summer of 2014.
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(Matthew Towery heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. His column is distributed by Morris News and Creators' Syndicate.)



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