Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., caused quite a stir recently when he said he might break Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge.The buzz isn't just because he's a prominent Republican sounding a newly pragmatic note in the wake of the 2012 elections. It's because he's tacking to the center when he's facing the very real risk of a serious primary challenge in 2014, when he's up for re-election. This, from a senator who once tacked a copy of Norquist's pledge on the door of his campaign offices during past House campaigns, according to a prominent former staffer-turned-critic.
But how serious is the threat to Chambliss?
A few potential candidates have already made it known they're considering the race. RedState's Erick Erickson is getting the most attention after teasing the possibility of a Chambliss challenge on his Atlanta radio show and Twitter Tuesday night. He wrote a post Tuesday morning hitting Chambliss hard over his comments regarding the pledge and calling him "one of the culprits in Washington's spending addition." On the radio show, he said he would give "prayerful consideration" to challenging Chambliss.
Meanwhile, Peach Pundit reported that Erickson said "serious people" had approached him about the possibility of running.
He's not the only one to express interest: Former Secretary of State Karen Handelis considering a bid, according to her former chief of staff, and friends confirmed that the unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial candidate is doing so.
GOP Reps. Tom Price and Paul Broun are also seriously mulling bids, according to one Georgia GOP strategist who says the two have been "aggressively making calls."
"The threat's very real," said the strategist. "Saxby has a longtime problem with the GOP base here." He noted that Chambliss and GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson vote similarly, but only Saxby has a base issue -- due in part to his lack of a strong grassroots political operation in the state. "A lot of people smell blood in the water," he said.
Price could be a strong candidate -- he currently has more cash on hand than Chambliss. He recently raised his profile during his recent (unsuccessful) run for GOP House Conference Chair and has solid conservative credentials. For the record, Price said Tuesday that it was "completely premature" to be thinking about a run.
Handel would also bring some advantages to a potential Senate bid, including statewide name identification and credibility with social conservatives; she resigned from Susan G. Komen for the Cure after they reversed their decision to defund Planned Parenthood, after apparently spearheading the effort.
A Broun candidacy could excite the far right -- he notably faced Charles Darwin as a write-in opponent during the last election, thanks to his comments about evolution being a lie "straight from the pit of hell." If Broun decides to jump in, a run for his congressional seat could be more appealing to Handel.
Meanwhile, speculation persists that the 69-year-old Chambliss will retire.
At this early stage, the seriousness of the threat Chambliss faces really depends on who jumps in -- and perhaps what happens next with the fiscal cliff.
It's been noted that Chambliss and other Republicans talking about breaking the pledge is very different from them actually breaking it. And so far, all Chambliss hasn't actually done anything, other than appearing to pick a fight with Norquist (and on Tuesday, he said the two talked and are still "friends.")