WASHINGTON — Senator Saxby Chambliss, the Georgia Republican who helped lead efforts to find a bipartisan deficit reduction compromise, announced on Friday that he would retire at the end of 2014, a decision likely to set off a battle on the Republican Party’s right flank for a successor.
Already, organizations backed by the Tea Party were stirring interest in a primary challenge for Mr. Chambliss over his embrace of new revenues as a part of any comprehensive deficit package. Representatives Tom Price and Paul Broun, two Republican doctors and ardent conservatives from Georgia, had expressed interest in a possible challenge.
But without Mr. Chambliss in the picture, the Senate contest in Georgia could shape up to be a battle royale on the right. Other possible candidates could include Herman Cain, a failed presidential candidate, and Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who ran for governor in 2010 with the backing of Sarah Palin. Ms. Handel lost that contest but went on to a senior position at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation, where she championed a controversial move to withhold financing for Planned Parenthood cancer screenings.
In a statement, Mr. Chambliss took pains to say he did not fear losing a primary challenge.
“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 said. “In these difficult political times, I am fortunate to have actually broadened my support around the state and the nation due to the stances I have taken. Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress.”
Democrats insisted they would make a run at his seat.
“Georgia will now offer Democrats 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. Regardless, there’s no question that the demographics of the state have changed and Democrats are gaining strength. This will be a top priority,” said Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
But in a mid-presidential term election, Georgia will present a steep climb for the Democratic Party.