Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss is theoretically very vulnerable to a primary challenger in 2014: it's just a question of whether any of the folks interested in taking him on can run a strong enough campaign to take advantage of that vulnerability.
Only 38% of Republican primary voters say they want Chambliss to be their nominee next year, compared to 43% who would prefer someone more conservative. But Chambliss stomps most of the people who've shown the most interest in taking him on. He leads Congressman Paul Broun by a 57/14 margin in a head to head, has a 50/22 advantage over Congressman Tom Price, and leads former Secretary of State Karen Handel 52/23.
By far and away the Republican who would pose the greatest threat to Chambliss in a primary, if he changed his mind about running, is Herman Cain. Cain would lead Chambliss 50-36 in a hypothetical match up. Cain has a 68/20 favorability rating with GOP primary voters, which compares quite favorably to Chambliss' 45/36 approval spread. Other long shot candidates we tested against Chambliss were Allen West, who trails 47/26, and Erick Erickson who trails 51/22.
Chambliss is extremely weak with Republicans describing themselves as 'very conservative.' 61% of them would like to replace him, compared to only 23% who would like to see him nominated again. He would trail Cain 68/19 with that group of voters.
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 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.
There are a lot of what ifs obviously in this race right now but in sum:
-Chambliss is definitely vulnerable in a primary but most of his potential opponents start out with low name recognition. So against anyone other than Herman Cain, Chambliss is going to start out in the lead. But so did Mike Castle and Richard Lugar...
-Chambliss' cross over appeal to Democrats would make him hard to defeat in a general election. But given the very real possibility of him losing to an extreme conservative candidate in the primary it might benefit Democrats to get a Joe Donnelly caliber candidate who doesn't have a lot to lose into the race, just in case...
Full results here