Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) confirmed Wednesday he plans to resign his seat at the end of December.
The 74-year-old said “mounting health challenges” stemming from Parkinson’s disease informed his decision, adding he also had surgery this week to remove a growth on his kidney. In July, Isakson fractured four ribs and tore his rotator cuff after he fell in his D.C. apartment.
“In my 40 years in elected office, I have always put my constituents and my state of Georgia first,” he said in a statement. “With the mounting health challenges I am facing, I have concluded that I will not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve.
“It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state.”
Isakson’s resignation sets off a political free-for-all in the state, with both Senate seats up for grabs in 2020.
The senator’s term ends in 2022. Per the National Conference of State Legislators, the governor gets to appoint someone to fill a Senate vacancy, with the appointee serving until the next regularly scheduled statewide general election ― which will be in 2020.
Georgia Sen. David Perdue (R) is up for reelection in 2020.
“With now two Senate seats up for election in 2020, it has never been clearer that the path for Democratic victory runs through Georgia,” the Democratic Party of Georgia said in a statement. “We are the battleground state, and Georgia Democrats are ready to fight and deliver both the Senate and the presidency for Democrats across the country in 2020.”
It’s unclear whom Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) will appoint to the seat.
Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost to Kemp in 2018 amid allegations of GOP voter suppression, quickly ruled out a run for either seat on Wednesday. If she entered the fray, she would immediately be the Democratic front-runner after attracting national attention and support after her high-profile gubernatorial bid.
“Our thoughts are with Senator Isakson and his family,” said Abrams spokesman Seth Bringman in an email to HuffPost. “Leader Abrams’ focus will not change: she will lead voter protection efforts in key states across the country, and make sure Democrats are successful in Georgia in 2020.
“While she will not be a candidate herself, she is committed to helping Democratic candidates win both Senate races next year.”
The newly open seat may shuffle the dynamics of the Perdue race as well, as Democrats decide whether to run against a sitting senator or an appointee with a shorter track record.
“This is yet another seat Republicans will need to defend next year in an increasingly competitive battleground where the president’s approval has plunged by double digits since taking office,” said Stewart Boss, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
There are three Democrats vying to challenge Perdue: former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry and 2018 lieutenant governor candidate Sarah Riggs Amico. Jon Ossoff, who attracted national attention when he unsuccessfully ran for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in a 2017 special election, is also weighing a campaign.
This story has been updated throughout.