Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Georgia senior U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss could lose his seat to a more conservative opponent, according to a Public Policy Polling finding released Tuesday.
Forty-three percent of usual Republican primary voters surveyed said they prefer someone more conservative than Chambliss, who plans to seek re-election in 2014.
That compares to 38 percent of GOP primary voters who told the pollsters they want Chambliss to be their party's nominee again next election.
Chambliss, a Moultrie Republican, won the Senate seat in 2002 by unseating Democrat Max Cleland. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives eight years before running for the Senate. He was re-elected to the Senate in 2008.
Although most Republicans surveyed support someone more conservative than Chambliss, the poll revealed that Chambliss would defeat those mentioned as possible challengers.
The poll has Chambliss leading U.S. Rep. Paul Broun 57 to 14 percent; U.S. Rep. Tom Price, 50 to 22; and former Secretary of State and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, 52 to 23 percent.
But the poll also shows that former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain leads Chambliss 50 percent to 36 percent. The poll found that Cain is viewed favorably by 68 percent of Republican primary voters and unfavorably by 20 percent. Chambliss has a 50% favorable/36% unfavorable rating among Republican primary voters.
Earlier this year, Cain dropped out of the presidential race after being linked to an alleged improper sexual relationship with a woman.
Other candidates tested in the poll were Allen West, who trails Chambliss 47 to 26 percent and Erick Erickson, a political activist from Macon, 51 to 22 percent.
According to the poll, 61 percent of the very conservative Republicans want Chambliss defeated. That compares to 23 percent of the very conservative who want to see the senator nominated again.
Chambliss trails Cain 68 to 19 percent in the high conservative group.
The pollsters also found that Chambliss, should he win his party's nomination, would probably be re-elected in the general election, primarily because 28 percent of Democratic voters approve of Chambliss.
The Public Policy poll concluded that like the Indiana race this year, a Democrat would have a shot at winning the Senate seat if the Republican Party nominates someone to the right of Chambliss.
Cleland has a higher favorability rating, 50 percent. But in a hypothetical head-to-head contest, Cleland ties with Chambliss at 45 percent of the vote.
Chambliss also leads other Democrats: former Gov. Roy Barnes, 48 to 40 percent, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, 50 to 37 percent, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, 52 to 37 percent and state Sen. Jason Carter, 52 to 34 percent.
The pollsters conclude that Chambliss is vulnerable in the primary, but his possible primary opponents have low recognition. In the general election, Chambliss would be tough to defeat because of the Democratic support he would get.
It would benefit Democrats to have an opponent, the pollsters say, just in case an extremely conservative Republican candidate wins the nomination.
Another item in the poll indicates Chambliss wouldn't suffer too much damage if he sticks with his stated intention of breaking away from the Grover Norquist pledge not to raise taxes that he signed in 1992 when he first ran for Congress.
In a recent interview with 13WMAZ, Chambliss said he preferred his country over the pledge when it comes to getting the nation's financial situation in order.
He's since said he supports closing some special-interest loopholes and using that money to help pay down the national debt.
The pollster reported that 16 percent of Georgians say the pledge is important, 35 percent believe it's not important and 50 percent weren't sure.
PPP said it surveyed 729 Georgia voters. The margin of error for the overall survey is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Those polled include 389 usual Republican primary voters. The findings for the part of the poll about the Republican primary is plus or minus five percentage points.