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Isakson to Run for the Senate in Ga.

Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) is expected to announce his Senate candidacy this afternoon at the state Capitol, making him the first person to officially toss his hat into the ring for retiring Sen. Zell Miller’s (D) seat.

The three-term lawmaker is set to reveal his plans at a 3 p.m. news conference in the Capitol Rotunda, and several sources confirmed on Tuesday that he will announce he is running.

Miller said last week that he will not seek re-election next year.

Isakson, 58, has run for statewide office twice before, losing a gubernatorial election to Miller in 1990 and then a 1996 Senate primary runoff, 53 percent to 47 percent, against Guy Millner. The former realty company president and state House Republican leader eventually won a 1999 special election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R).

Isakson favors abortion rights and is considered one of the more moderate members of the state’s GOP delegation. In the 106th Congress he was the only Georgia Republican to vote against barring the Food and Drug Administration from receiving money for RU-486, commonly referred to as the abortion pill.

Isakson may not be the lone member of the state’s delegation to enter what could be a crowded primary. Georgia GOP Reps. Jack Kingston and Mac Collins are actively considering making the race. Rep. Charlie Norwood (R) is also considered a potential candidate, although sources familiar with his thinking said he is leaning against a run.

Compared to his delegation colleagues, Isakson has a much more sizeable war chest available for a Senate campaign. He showed $1.1 million in the bank as of Nov. 25, 2002, the most recent date fundraising numbers were available. Kingston, meanwhile, had $657,000 and Collins showed $43,000.

There are also several other potential GOP candidates outside of the current Congressional delegation mulling bids.

Former Rep. Bob Barr (R) was making preparations for a candidacy but may now decide to run for Isakson’s House seat instead. Georgia Republican Party Chairman Ralph Reed, credited with engineering the party’s historic success at the polls last November, is also said to be eyeing the race.

On the Democratic side, former Sen. Max Cleland (D) would be considered the early frontrunner for the party’s nomination, should he decide to run. Cleland has not indicated whether he is considering seeking the seat, although party officials have reached out to him in an effort to gauge his interest.

In a brief interview on Tuesday, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said he had not spoken with his former colleague about the race.

“A lot of people are looking at it,” Corzine said.

Among the other Democrats considering a run are Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Attorney General Thurbert Baker. Georgia Democratic Reps. Sanford Bishop and John Lewis are also mentioned as possible candidates.

Meanwhile, Isakson’s candidacy will touch off an open-seat race in the solidly Republican 6th district. The seat was made slightly more favorable for the GOP in redistricting and would have given President Bush almost 68 percent in the 2000 election.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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