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Sources: Georgia's Isakson to seek Senate seat

Other contenders eye race

From John Mercurio
CNN Washington Bureau

Rep. Johnny Isakson, left, and Sen. Zell Miller, who is retiring
Rep. Johnny Isakson, left, and Sen. Zell Miller, who is retiring

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Johnny Isakson of Georgia is expected to announce Wednesday his plans to seek the Republican nod to succeed retiring Sen. Zell Miller, making him the first candidate to join the upcoming cycle's only open-seat Senate race, sources said.

Isakson, 58, has scheduled a press conference at 3 p.m. in the state Capitol rotunda in Atlanta, Georgia to discuss his plans.

While he's viewed as a top contender, Isakson is sure to face a crowded primary for the 2004 race. Buoyed by their success last year in ousting a Democratic senator and electing their first governor since Reconstruction, several Georgia Republicans are considering the race, including Reps. Mac Collins and Jack Kingston.

Isakson would likely start the race with a sizable financial edge, at least among his House colleagues. As of November 25., 2002, Isakson had $1.1 million in his House campaign account, which he could use in a Senate bid. Collins had $43,000 on hand at that time; Kingston had $657,000 in the bank.

Isakson was elected to the House in a February 1999 special election to fill the vacancy created when Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned.

Isakson ran for governor in 1990, losing to Miller, the Democratic senator he's running to succeed. He also ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 1996, losing the GOP primary after he was strongly opposed by anti-abortion activists. In 1996, then-Gov. Miller appointed him chairman of the state school board, a position he held until he was elected to the House.

Isakson's decision also could pave the way for defeated Rep. Bob Barr to return to public office. Sources said state Republican leaders are urging Barr to drop his plans to run for Senate and instead seek Isakson's House seat, a Republican stronghold in the Atlanta suburbs. Early signs are that Barr, who lost a GOP primary last year to Rep. John Linder in a nearby district, is receptive to the idea.

Miller announced a week ago that he will not seek re-election in 2004. The former two-term Georgia governor was appointed to the Senate seat in July 2000 after the death of Sen. Paul Coverdell, and that November was elected to fill the remainder of the term.

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