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Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss announced Friday morning that he will not seek re-election, opening the door for a competitive, critical Senate race in 2014.

Although Georgia is still a solid red state, the Republican Party is no longer the dominant statewide force it once was. Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama in Georgia by just under 8 percent — smaller than Obama’s margin of victory in other supposed swing states like Michigan and New Mexico. With the right candidates, it’s not hard to imagine a repeat of recent Senate races in Nevada, Delaware, Colorado, Missouri, and Indiana, where the GOP blew a winnable race by nominating an extreme right-wing candidate after a bitter primary.

Early speculation for the Democratic nomination has focused on “Blue Dog” congressman John Barrow, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, or even R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. But the real action will be in the Republican primary.

Here are five Republicans who could pursue the Senate seat — and perhaps provide Democrats with an opportunity for a surprise pickup:

Herman Cain

(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Former Republican presidential candidate and pizza magnate Herman Cain had said that he would not challenge Chambliss in a Republican primary, but his calculus may change now that the incumbent is off the ballot. Cain unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2004.

Despite running one of the strangest presidential campaigns in history — which ended in a surreal collapse featuring allegations of sexual harassment and frequent quoting of the Pokemon movie — Cain would be the instant frontrunner if he joined the race. According to a December Public Policy Polling poll, 68 percent of Georgia Republicans view Cain favorably, and he would begin the campaign far ahead of the field.

Paul Broun

Even in a Republican caucus known for right wing politics and crazy behavior, Representative Paul Broun stands out. The third-most conservative member of the 112th House, Broun has recently made headlines for claiming that evolution and the big bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of Hell,” and for declaring “I think the only Constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet constitution.”

Broun was openly considering a primary challenge before Chambliss announced his retirement, so he can be considered a safe bet to run for the seat now that it’s open.

Phil Gingrey

(Photo by Republican Conference/Flickr)

Representative Phil Gingrey has long been viewed as a potential statewide candidate in Georgia, and he is likely to at least investigate a campaign in the wake of Chambliss’ retirement.

The only major hurdle for Gingrey: his recent remark that disgraced former congressman Todd Akin was “partially right” when he claimed that women rarely become pregnant as a result of “legitimate rape.”

Tom Price

Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Conservative representative Tom Price has said that he is actively considering a Senate run in the wake of Chambliss’ retirement, telling right-wing website The Daily Caller through a spokesman that he will “make a decision and announcement at the appropriate time.”

Price, who endeared himself to conservatives with his almost comically dire warnings about the Affordable Care Act, was a rumored candidate for Speaker of the House if John Boehner had been successfully toppled by a right-wing insurrection.

Karen Handel

(Photo by Rich Lacey/Flickr)

Former Susan G. Komen for the Cure executive Karen Handel was reportedly considering a primary challenge to Chambliss, and is likely to get into the race with the incumbent out of the picture.

Handel, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2010, sparked controversy when she pushed Komen to cut its support for Planned Parenthood — a move that caused a public uproar, eventually causing the foundation to reverse its decision and Handel to resign.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani

Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

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