Republican representative Tom Price told the Marietta Daily Journal on Friday that he won’t run for Senate in 2014.
This means that Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, will “more likely than not” enter the Senate primary, according to a source familiar with her thinking. Should she enter — and it’s more of a “when” than a “should” — she’ll be the immediate front-runner.
Handel lost a close gubernatorial primary against now-governor Nathan Deal in 2010, despite being significantly outspent. She still has that statewide grassroots network in place, as well as strong name ID. She’s also assembled a team of top-tier operatives, should she decide to run.
Price told the paper that he’s looking forward to staying on Capitol Hill, where he is the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee and in line to be chairman when Paul Ryan’s term in that post ends. It’s understandable, Georgia insiders say, that the mild-mannered doctor would prefer to be a prominent leader in the House rather than a freshman senator in a chamber where his party is the minority.
Handel and Price are close friends, and wouldn’t have run against each other for the same seat. Georgia sources told me a few weeks ago that Handel would defer to Price on the Senate run, and she would have run for his congressional seat if he’d gone for Senate. But now that he’s opted out, Handel could be at the top of a large and growing field of Senate candidates.
The current GOP primary field includes Representative Paul Broun, known his headline-grabbing remarks (e.g., he sent a fundraising letter saying he was proud to be the first person to call Obama a socialist); as well as Representative Phil Gingrey, who once defended Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment (a defense he later walked back). Representative Jack Kingston, who will struggle to marshal support outside the state’s southeast region where his seat resides, is also running.
Handel made national headlines last year when, as head of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, she tried to end the group’s support for Planned Parenthood. She has significant support in Atlanta, where the state’s fundraising and political clout are concentrated. That likely gives her an important edge over the announced candidates.