AFTER ISAKSON Although no fewer than four U.S. House members, a former congressman, and a statewide official are being mentioned for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller, only one has taken the plunge and he is the least conservative of the pack. Rep. Johnny Isakson (American Conservative Union rating: 75%), whose positions on issues such as abortion and campaign finance reform are the opposite of those of most conservatives in and out of the Peach State, has declared for the Senate nomination. So committed is Isakson to the Senate race that speculation is already rampant over who will succeed him in the heavily Republican, suburban Atlanta 6th District once held by Newt Gingrich. Indeed, seven present and former local office-holders—all more conservative than Isakson—are either mentioned for or actively exploring the congressional race. The most talked-of possibility at this time is State Sen. Chuck Clay, a former state party chairman and grandson of the late Gen. Lucius Clay. Another past party chairman being discussed as a House candidate who also gets high marks on the right is Rusty Paul, who served as a top aide to Jack Kemp when he was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Easily the most intriguing prospect for the seat is former Rep. (1994-2002) Bob Barr, a hero to conservatives nationwide for his role as a House manager in the Clinton impeachment. Within hours of Miller’s announcing his retirement, Barr had signaled his “strong interest” in a Senate race and opened an office for an exploratory campaign. But after Isakson’s decision to go for the Senate, Barr (lifetime ACU rating: 98%) told me that he was “taking a hard look at both openings in the Senate and in the House.” Last year, Democrat-orchestrated redrawing of his former Marietta-area district convinced Barr to move and run for a new, strongly Republican Atlanta-area seat against fellow Republican Rep. John Linder. But because more of his former district was in the newly carved district, Linder was a runaway winner in the primary. Barr conceded gracefully and has begun other pursuits as a private citizen, notably his work as a National Rifle Association board member and as a privacy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union. The former congressman, whose residence is technically in Linder’s district and about four miles outside Isakson’s, now says he will make a decision on either the Senate or the House “in two weeks.” SHORT TAKES Without Wilson: After firing some public salvos at erratic South Carolina Democratic Sen. Ernest (Fritz) Hollings and hinting broadly that he would love to take on the 35-year incumbent in ’04, GOP Rep. Joe Wilson recently announced that he would instead remain in the House. The conservative Wilson noted that he had been in the House less than two years (since winning the seat of his mentor, the late House Armed Services Committee Chairman Floyd Spence, in a special election) and wanted to gain seniority there rather than make an attempt for higher office. Most speculation on a Republican challenger to Hollings (who turned 81 on New Year’s Day) centers on Rep. Jim DeMint, who has long maintained he will stick to a self-imposed three-term limit and leave the House in ’04. DeMint (lifetime ACU rating: 91%) is also reportedly the favorite of White House political operative Karl Rove for a Senate race, and is expected to soon unveil a star-studded list of backers. But other Palmetto State Republicans continue to be mentioned, among them former State Atty. Gen. Charles Condon (who lost the GOP nomination for governor last year) and former Rep. (1980-86) Tommy Hartnett, who has lost statewide bids for lieutenant governor, U.S. senator and governor. Post Graham: The “$64,000 question” in Florida politics is whether Sen. Bob Graham will leave the Senate next year regardless of what happens to his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Most Florida political sources who talked to me believe that, with the presidential nomination to be decided earlier than ever in ’04, Graham—who will be 68 next year—will have ample time to file for re-election and will end up seeking a fourth term. Some Sunshine State Democrats are not so sure. Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penellas, for example, said he is strongly considering a Senate race if Graham decides to go all-or-nothing-at-all on a presidential race and steps down. But, he told the Miami Herald, “There’s no decision for me until Bob Graham makes his decision.” Other Democratic possibilities in the event of a Graham exit include Representatives Peter Deutsch, Alcee Hastings and Jim Davis, and former State Atty. Gen. Bob Butterworth. Among Republicans, five-term Rep. Mark Foley (lifetime ACU rating: 81%) appears the most active possible candidate and has signaled he may run regardless of what Graham does. Former Rep. (1980-2000) and 2000 Senate nominee Bill McCollum has also made noises about making a comeback by running for the Senate. The GOP hopeful widely considered the strongest potential candidate, however, recently ruled out the race. Two-term Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, a stalwart conservative, is instead actively pursuing the vacant presidency of Florida Atlantic University. Blunt Dealings: In recent weeks, two conservative Republicans considered first-class gubernatorial material next year have ruled out a race against Missouri Democratic Gov. Roger Wilson. Both Rep. Kenny Hulshof (lifetime ACU rating: 88%) and State Senate President Peter Kinder said they will not run for governor of the Show-Me State, even as GOP electoral muscle continues to grow. Last year, not only was Jim Talent elected to the U.S. Senate, but Republicans took control of the state house of representatives for the first time in more than a half-century. So why are Hulshof and Kinder passing on what could be a very promising opportunity? Sources in Jefferson City tell me that, while both had the ambition to run, neither was eager to take on the a third candidate who is definitely running: Secretary of State Matt Blunt, 33-year-old son of House Republican Whip Roy Blunt. Despite Matt Blunt’s youth and the fact that he has been in statewide office just over two years, the same sources confirmed that the fund-raising prowess of the elder Blunt and his commitment to his son’s candidacy was pivotal in discouraging potential primary rivals. Into the Private Sector: With a number of durable Republican governors “termed out” of office last year, major corporations and trade associations are increasingly providing lucrative private sector employment for them in the Washington area. Frank Keating, who served eight years as governor of Oklahoma, has become president of the American Council of Life Insurers and Bill Graves, who finished eight years as governor of Kansas, has taken up the reins as president of the American Truckers Association. Now former Michigan Gov. (1990-2002) John Engler is the latest former state chief executive to become a corporate executive. The computer giant Electronic Data Systems (EDS) has just announced that the 54-year-old Engler will become its vice president for governmental affairs. Based in Plano, Tex., and with Washington-area offices in Herndon, Va., EDS was founded by Ross Perot and eventually bought by General Motors. Hill Rats: Among new faces in key spots in congressional offices: Eric Hultman, lawyer and top aide to conservative former Sen. (1987-88) David Karnes (R.-Neb.), is the new chief of staff to Rep. Lee Terry (R.-Neb.). Hultman also worked for the House Republican Conference under former Chairman J. C. Watts (R.-Okla.). . . . Freshman Rep. Scott Garrett (R.-N.J.) has tapped campaign manager Evan Kozlow as his chief of staff. Kozlow was political director of former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler’s bid for governor of the Garden State in 2001 and, according to Schundler campaign manager Bill Pascoe, “Evan knows his conservatism, all right.”. . . . Michigan’s two new Republican Representatives, Candice Miller and Thad McCotter, have named their top aides—Miller’s campaign manager Jamie Roe will run the office for her, while Kara Moore, former chief of staff to State Sen. Bill Bullard of Oakland County, will do the same for McCotter.