Democrats see an opportunity to increase their majority in the Senate .
WASHINGTON — Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced Friday he will not seek a third term next year, saying "this is about frustration" with Washington gridlock that he doesn't see changing in a divided government.
"After much contemplation and reflection, I have decided not to run for re-election to the Senate in 2014," the 69-year-old Chambliss said in a statement.
The lawmaker rejected suggestions he could not have survived a likely Republican primary fight with the conservative tea party, insisting he has a proud conservative record and noting he received more votes than any other statewide official in Georgia history in 2008.
Instead, he cited his dismay with both Democratic President Barack Obama and the lack of meaningful legislation in Congress, especially in addressing the nation's economic woes.
"The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal-cliff vote showed Congress at its worst, and sadly, I don't see the legislative gridlock and partisan posturing improving anytime soon," Chambliss said. "For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy."
His decision is expected to set off a Republican scramble for the southern state's seat while Democrats see an opportunity to increase their majority in the Senate where Democrats hold a 55 to 45 advantage.
But they will be defending more seats in next year's elections — 20 to the Republicans'. Democrats will be scrambling to hold onto the seat in Republican-leaning West Virginia, where five-term Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller recently announced he would not seek re-election. Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is running for the Senate seat.
Democratic incumbents also face tough re-election races in Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina and Alaska — all states that went Republican in the last presidential election.
Chambliss, 69, has been a Republican loyalist for much of his House and Senate career, but he earned the wrath of some in his party for participating in a bipartisan Senate "Gang of Six" intent on finding a way to reduce the deficit. The group advocated a mix of tax increases, anathema to many in the GOP, and spending cuts. But the group failed to reach agreement and produce a bargain.
Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, a 22-year House veteran, said he was considering seeking the seat. Kingston, 57, said his knowledge of defense and agriculture, important issues in Georgia, would help him in a race.
"Regardless of what happens, it's going to be a 10-person race," Kingston said in a telephone interview from Israel, where he was traveling with other lawmakers. "And I think you'll probably have a self-funder in there, and you can have a mad scramble."
Chambliss was first elected to the House in the 1994 Republican wave. He moved up to the Senate after a bruising 2002 campaign in which he defeated Democratic incumbent Max Cleland, a triple amputee from his Vietnam war service.
He was criticized for a slashing campaign against Cleland that included an ad, featuring terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, criticizing the Democrat — a decorated Vietnam War veteran — for his record on defense and homeland security issues. Even some of Chambliss' fellow Republicans said it went too far
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.