In a poll conducted over the weekend by GaPundit.com, Westmoreland came in fifth among likely candidates mentioned by a statewide random sample of voters. He received 8.4 percent of the selections. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was first with 22.4 percent.
“The announcement made last week will most certainly set off a flurry of speculation as to who will run,” Westmoreland said in a statement issued Monday. “There are many experienced, conservative leaders in Georgia who would make a good U.S. Senator. Over the next several days and weeks my family, friends, supporters and I will determine if I am interested in being a part of that discussion. Saxby is a good friend, and he will truly be missed. I wish Saxby, Julianne, and their family all the best in the future. His public service to the state of Georgia over the last two decades should be commended.”
After Perdue, former Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel was the most mentioned prospect (15 percent), followed by 10th District U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (10.3 percent), Sixth District U.S. Rep. Tom Price (9.7 percent), Westmoreland, 14th District U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (6.3 percent) and current Secretary of State Brian Kemp (3.4 percent). The “undecided” made up 24.5 percent of those polled.
“If Perdue decides to run for the U.S. Senate, he immediately becomes the front runner, though it’s not a prohibitive lead,” Todd Rehm, GaPundit.com editor, said Monday.
He said the poll shows that about 60 percent of Handel’s support comes from women, significantly higher than any other potential candidate.
“Nearly 64 percent of the undecided respondents are women, showing some upside for Handel in a demographic that has been a weakness for the GOP lately,” Rehm said. “At the same time, Gov. Perdue’s strong lead overall means that he still attracts more votes from women overall.”
According to the Associated Press, 12th District U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Augusta and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed are the most obvious Democratic party choices to run for Chambliss’ seat.
Chambliss was first elected to Congress in the 1994 Republican wave. He moved up to the U.S. Senate after defeating Democratic incumbent Max Cleland, a triple amputee from his Vietnam war service, in 2002. Chambliss was widely criticized for campaign ads that featured Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and that criticized Cleland as weak on defense and homeland security issues.
The senator has drawn the ire of hard-line conservatives over his participation in the “Gang of Six,” a group of three Democrats and three Republicans that tried but failed to fashion a grand compromise on fiscal issues. One of those senators, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, praised Chambliss as a statesman on Friday.
Conservative angst resurfaced when Chambliss voted for the tax-and-debt compromise that Obama fashioned with congressional leaders over the New Year’s holidays to avoid the fiscal cliff. The measure held taxes steady for the middle class but allowed them to rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.
– The Associated Press contributed to this story.