Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) continues to look susceptible to a primary challenge from the right in a poll released Tuesday, but the two-term incumbent comfortably tops all would-be intraparty rivals — except for former presidential candidate Herman Cain.
The latest automated survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that a slightly plurality of Georgia Republicans, 43 percent, would prefer someone more conservative. Thirty-eight percent of GOP primary voters said they want Chambliss to be the party's nominee in 2014.
Despite that vulnerability, the poll shows Chambliss trouncing every prospective candidate who's signaled an interest in running — Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) and former Secretary of State Karen Handel. Chambliss likewise claims wide leads over long-shot candidates such as conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who announced last week that he will not run.
But Cain, the colorful former pizza magnate who saw an unlikely rise in the polls last year as a presidential hopeful, tops Price among in-state Republicans 50 percent to 36 percent. Chambliss is by far the most electable Republican, the poll shows, indicating that the 2014 race in Georgia could bear some resemblance to a key 2012 senate race.
In terms of the general election the Georgia Senate race is somewhat reminiscent of the Indiana contest this cycle- if Chambliss is the nominee the seat is probably safe for the GOP, but if someone far to his right wins the primary the Democrats might have a chance if everything goes their way.
The only Democrat who comes particularly close to Chambliss is 2002 foe Max Cleland, who despite being quite popular with a 50/27 favorability rating, only musters a tie at 45. Chambliss leads former Governor Roy Barnes 48-40, Congressman John Barrow 50-37, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed 52-37, and State Senator Jason Carter 52-34. Those folks are all of a higher caliber probably than who the Democrats will be able to get to run, and they still don't come all that close.
The reason Chambliss does so well against all of those folks is that he actually has a fair amount of appeal to Democrats. 28% approve of him, a lot more crossover support than we see for most politicians these days. If Chambliss was taken out in the primary, it's likely the Republicans would end up with a nominee who doesn't have that going for them. We tested Tom Price against all the Democrats as well and he would trail Cleland 47-39 and Barnes 46-40 while leading Barrow only 40-38, Reed 43-38, and Carter 42-36. It could have the potential to be a race if Chambliss does get primaried.