Political musical chairs heats up as Legislature winds down

When a sitting U.S. senator retires, it starts a cascade of ambition and hubris

When Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced in January that he would retire after his term ended next year, he opened the floodgates on a mad scramble for higher position that will undoubtedly continue into 2014 as congressmen vie for the upper chamber, state lawmakers strive for Congress and local officials everywhere fight to capture all those empty seats.

Let’s look at the Republican strivers first, because that’s where most of the action likely will be. As you know, Congressman Paul Broun of Crazytown, er, Athens, has been the first to dive in, formally announcing his candidacy a scant two weeks after Chambliss’ news. (As a side note, his campaign website features a creepy close-up photo of Broun’s face that reminded me of those deer heads mounted on the wall in his wacky “lies straight from the pit of hell” video.)

You’ve probably also heard that Broun is likely to be followed into the race by fellow GOP congressmen Jack Kingston of Savannah, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Tom Price of Roswell, as well as former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

From what I hear from political consultants and well-placed rumormongers, most of that will happen, except that Price and Handel is an either/or proposition. Handel actually has her eye on Price’s seat and will only go for the Senate if he stays put…which is what seems likely. Even though we hear Price met quietly last week with folks from the National Republican Senatorial Committee to discuss a possible run, we understand he’s leaning heavily toward keeping his influential seat on the House Budget Committee.

Which likely means you can add Handel—fresh off a stint at Susan G. Komen for the Cure that was either disastrous or victorious, depending on your politics—can be added to list of Senate wannabes.

We’ll address handicapping the Senate race at a later date, although it should be noted that, despite his loopy pronouncements, Broun is a surprisingly effective debater who has handily defeated seemingly adept challengers recruited by his own party.

OK, so if all those folks run, we’ll next see a mass exodus from the state Legislature to fill the empty Congressional seats. State Rep. Ed Lindsey, who lives mere yards inside the 11th District boundary in Brookhaven, has made little secret of his plan to run for Gingrey’s job. We hear he could be joined by state Sen. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville in Bartow County. Sen. Judson Hill of Marietta is also said to be interested, but he lives inside Price’s 6th District, although residency is not a legal requirement. And more names will undoubtedly surface.

On the other side of the aisle, the only name you likely need know for now is John Barrow, Georgia’s last remaining white Democratic member of Congress. (With Mayor Kasim Reed already a pass, the Senate race appears destined to be a whites-only affair.)

Barrow, one of the most conservative of all Congressional Democrats and a vocal supporter of 2nd Amendment rights, has proven to be Georgia’s Energizer Donkey, if you will, having survived two GOP attempts to gerrymander him out of a job. Having relocated from Athens to Augusta, Barrow has now been elected by three constituencies across a broad swath of east Georgia.

Although the 2014 general election is more than a year and half away, I can assure you that a show-down between the Bible-quoting Broun and Blue Dog Barrow would be the most entertaining race Georgia has seen in a coon’s age.