Today’s Courier Herald Column:
It is amazing how quickly we move from one campaign cycle into another. Saxby Chambliss’s race for reelection to the U.S. Senate seemed to begin in earnest before Thanksgiving. While votes from the 2012 election were still being counted, those behind the scenes were moving quickly to position themselves for a possible run at Saxby’s seat.
It is not surprising to those that have been paying attention that there is talk of a primary challenge from Chambliss’ right. Tea Party groups and members of conservative media have little tolerance for compromisers these days, and Saxby has led many of the “gangs” that searched for consensus on major problems throughout his tenure. With some successes (Marco Rubio) and misses (Richard Mourdock), these groups have demonstrated they can at least sway Republican primaries, if not always get their candidate elected in November.
It comes as a little more surprise that, given the opportunity, Governor Nathan Deal refused to endorse Chambliss on Monday, instead telling the AJC’s Daniel Malloy “It’s way too early to be picking winners and losers and people that you’re going to support and not support.” For those keeping track at home, Chambliss has been Georgia’s Senator for 11 years, and served alongside Governor Deal in Washington.
It’s hard to imagine that Governor Deal needs to see more on the job performance to determine if he will add the weight of his sizable statewide network to Chambliss’ bid for re-election. Just the thought that the Governor may sit this one out is enough to ensure those who are on the fence about a primary challenge – including those who have yet to float their name – may take a long look at this race.
Deal’s dangling of support or non-support likely has little to do with Chambliss himself, and much more to do with Saxby’s longtime political consultant, Tom Perdue. The two men, as they say, have a bit of history.
In late September of 2010, after a bitter primary and runoff for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, additional details emerged about the Governor’s finances which had not been disclosed during the primaries. Perdue went on record with the Associated Press calling for Deal to leave the race saying “he should step down as the nominee.” He added “People in the party feel betrayed and they feel cheated because if they had known about all of this earlier, there would have been a different nominee.”
The AP noted in the article that the race “suddenly seems to be a tossup”, though Deal went on to win handily six weeks later. As Governor, Deal has been less than charitable to those who have opposed him, and Chambliss is apparently receiving what the Governor’s team has coined as “teachable moments.”
The day after Perdue’s statements, a group called “Republicans for Roy” was announced with a small slate of Republicans who were backing former Democratic Governor Roy Barnes over Deal. While Perdue’s name was not listed, some within the Deal camp are said to still relate the two events as more than just coincidence, and continue to harbor negative feelings toward Perdue.
Chambliss spent this past Saturday morning speaking to the Cobb County GOP, bringing with him not only his D.C. based Chief of Staff Charlie Harman, but Tom Perdue as well. Insiders now speculate it was a public answer to Deal’s private “request” that Perdue not be involved in Chambliss’ campaign as a condition of Deal’s support. Speculation is now that Deal’s Monday comments following this Saturday appearance is a more public warning shot of things to come if they continue on the current path.
Deal, like Chambliss, intends to be on the ballot in 2014. Unlike Chambliss, there does not appear to be a movement afoot to mount a primary challenge to the Governor at this time. Time will tell if Deal’s reluctance to embrace Chambliss has more to do with his desire to keep Tea Party activists focused on one primary challenge, or if Deal is settling an old score. But we have time. It’s still roughly 20 months until this primary actually happens.