Johnny Isakson reportedly will make official next week what he’s been insisting to anyone who would listen for almost two years: He will run for a third term in the U.S. Senate come 2016. I have privately had my doubts about whether he would follow through with that — if he wanted so much as to keep his options open, he had to keep saying he’d run — but this news puts those doubts to rest. It also just might be the best thing that could happen, as far as Georgia’s electoral votes are concerned, to the eventual GOP presidential nominee that year.
First, Isakson’s determination to press on — and to be so public about it so early — makes it more likely than not that the Georgia GOP will avoid another drawn-out, messy primary like the one that produced Sen.-elect David Perdue. He may get a primary opponent, but I doubt it would be anyone who could mount more of a challenge than Gov. Nathan Deal faced during this year’s primary. A two-term incumbent is hard to beat. And Isakson has served two terms without making some of the same enemies Saxby Chambliss did on the right. I’ll hear a little bit of grumbling from time to time about him, but he simply hasn’t taken the controversial stances on issues like taxes and immigration that Chambliss did. There are any number of high-profile Republicans I could imagine jumping into the race if Isakson were to retire, maybe even more than we had this year. But I would expect most of them to keep their powder dry rather than take on such a popular figure within the party.
Second, the fact that Isakson stands to enter the general election unscathed should make a lot of prominent Democrats think twice about getting into the race. Yes, it will be a presidential year, which ought to make for a more favorable electorate for a Democrat (although it’s worth noting that Mitt Romney did almost exactly as well here in 2012 as Perdue and Deal did this year). But they have to consider how realistic their chances would be against a two-term incumbent who would be extremely well-funded and backed by a unified Republican Party, in a year when there will probably be less outside money available for Senate races in general — and especially in places where the challenger has such a steep hill to climb toward victory. Ultimately, a milquetoast slate down the ballot isn’t going to help the Democrats win Georgia’s electoral votes.
Finally, Isakson should be in a fairly prominent position over the next two years as the GOP tries to make some progress with its majorities in Congress. He’ll be in a perfect place to make the case that it’s time to have a Republican president with a Republican-controlled Congress to make progress on issues from the economy to foreign policy. Given his stature in Georgia, he’ll be able to make that message resonate with independent voters in a way that a new candidate might not be able to do.
Johnny Isakson is, as people on both sides of the aisle often acknowledge, precisely the kind of statesman you want to see in Washington. Having him in the Senate for eight more years would be a very good thing.