ATLANTA - After eight years as Georgia's lieutenant governor, Democrat Mark Taylor was poised Tuesday night to win a shot at the top spot as his party's nominee for governor.
At press time, Taylor led Secretary of State Cathy Cox with 51.0 percent of the vote to 44.5 percent, with 76 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial returns.
Political unknowns Bill Bolton and Mac McCarley trailed far behind the two front-runners with 2.3 percent and 2.2 percent of the vote, respectively.
While small, those numbers were enough to put Taylor in danger of being forced into a runoff with Cox on Aug. 8 to decide the Democratic nomination.
Under state law, candidates must get at least 50 percent of the vote plus one to win an election.
Meanwhile, the man Taylor and Cox were hoping to challenge in November, Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, won the GOP nomination in a landslide.
Also with 76 percent of precincts reporting in the Republican gubernatorial primary, Perdue had garnered 88.1 percent of the GOP vote to just 11.9 percent for Ray McBerry of McDonough.
Tuesday's Democratic primary culminated an intense contest between two veteran Democrats from Southwest Georgia, both of whom felt they had paid enough political dues to deserve the party's gubernatorial nod.
The race turned bitter during the last two months, as the two spent millions of dollars on TV ads blasting each other's voting records while members of the General Assembly and accusing each other of abusing their offices for personal gain.
Taylor, of Albany, charged Cox with opposing the state lottery, which funds HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten, while she was a member of the Georgia House, and of using a series of taxpayer-funded ads targeting investment fraud to boost her name recognition for the governor's race.
Cox, of Bainbridge, questioned the significance of the role Taylor played in creating the lottery during his tenure in the state Senate and accused him of pushing legislation that would have given his two uncles a "sweetheart'' land deal.
Taylor ran on his record of accomplishment during 12 years as a legislator and two terms as lieutenant governor, including not only the HOPE program but also eliminating the state sales tax on groceries and passing the tough "two-strikes-and-you're out'' crime bill. He also touted PeachKids, his plan to provide universal health coverage for Georgia children.
Cox, vying to become Georgia's first female governor, portrayed herself as a reform candidate who would take a less partisan approach than either Taylor or Perdue, who she characterized as "old-style'' politicians.
She vowed to clean up state government by championing ethics reforms.
Taylor outraised Cox during the long race for the nomination, $6.9 million to $5.6 million, according to reports the two filed with the State Ethics Commission.
But after spending $5.8 million waging an air war with his primary opponent, the lieutenant governor was left with a relatively paltry $1.1 million in his treasury as of June 30.
Perdue, without a significant primary challenge, had spent only about $1.6 million through the end of last month. Drawing upon the advantages of an incumbent, the governor also had raised more to begin with - $10.7 million - than either of the Democrats.
As a result, Perdue had socked away $9.1 million for the fall campaign as of June 30, according to his report.