Sen. Saxby Chambliss has decided to part company with Grover Norquist. In doing so, he invited a primary challenge. Reps. Paul Broun, Tom Price, and former secretary of state Karen Handel all have been maneuvering to oust Chambliss in 2014. Joshua Miller at CQ Roll Call reported on November 19 that conservatives just aren’t happy with Chambliss, with some, like Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, who said that:
“Sen. Chambliss is not very popular among a lot of the conservative grass roots.” Conservatives “don’t feel he’s as conservative as the base is,” said Virginia Galloway, the state director for Americans for Prosperity Georgia. “Sometimes when he sees himself being a statesman, conservatives see him as being a sellout.”
The crux of the base’s concern is Chambliss’ history of reaching across the aisle to work on solutions to issues such as immigration and federal debt. Another thing that rankled some of the base: his involvement in the bipartisan effort to come up with a solution to the debt ceiling crisis as part of the “gang of six.”
Chambliss will almost certainly have a primary challenger from the right. But over the next months, the decisive factor in determining his true vulnerability is whether a GOP congress member will run or whether Chambliss will face off with a less-formidable challenger.
Heck, even conservative blogger Erick Erickson considered challenging Chambliss, but decided to take a pass on this one last week. Aaron Blake at The Washington Post listed four reasons why Chambliss is a vulnerable incumbent on November 30.
1. While it’s not clear who might have the wherewithal to challenge Graham, there are plenty of candidates ready to challenge Chambliss. Price and Broun both have very conservative records, and Handel, of course, has a statewide resume.
2. Chambliss had a weak showing in 2008. Despite being an incumbent, he ran a few points behind Sen. John McCarin (R-Ariz.) at the top of the ticket and actually needed to go to a runoff to keep his seat against Democrat Jim Martin, who wasn’t seen as a top-tier opponent. (Chambliss did beat Martin by double-digits in the runoff, for what it’s worth.)
3. He’s from South Georgia. Chambliss is from Moultrie, which is very far from Atlanta and from most of the state’s population centers. Thus, it seems logical that a candidate from the Atlanta area could beat him by regionalizing the race.
4. He’s got a tone problem. While Chambliss has got a largely conservative record, he’s hardly a conservative favorite. In fact, when it comes to the National Journal vote ratings, Chambliss has scored more conservative than Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) the last two years, and he was tied for the most conservative senator in 2010.
While I’m not so up in arms about him filing a petition for divorce from Grover Norquist, the fact that he’s unpalatable to the conservative grassroots is a problem. The power of the incumbent is omnipresent in elections, but if he, or she, finds that their relationship with the grassroots is shaky – then they should either update their resumes or quickly get cozy with them. Money is a powerful asset, but former Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) outspent his Republican challenger, Richard Mourdock, by a 3-to-1 margin and still lost the primary. In fact, Lugar was shellacked. This is what happens to representatives that anger or become disconnected with the grassroots organizations.
Mr. Chambliss isn’t a conservative favorite. But to say that his conservatism poses a liability, as stated by Blake, is wrong. Republicans should primary each other based on that notion. However, if they have a history of selling out, or working too closely with the other side, then by all means initiate the purge. We have an American party and a European one. Bipartisanship is very overrated in these circumstances.