Perdue coasts to second term

ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue made Georgia history Tuesday by becoming the state's first Republican governor ever to win re-election.

Bowing to Perdue's overwhelming lead, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the Democratic challenger, conceded the race to Perdue shortly before 10:30 p.m., about three and a half hours after the polls closed.

The governor spoke to his supporters a few minutes later, flanked by his wife, Mary.

"We are so honored to serve,'' he said. "And I'll make this commitment to you now: Mary and I will continue to work our hearts out to make this state better than we found it.''

With 85 percent of precincts reporting as of press time, Perdue had 58.7 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results, to Taylor's 37.5 percent. Libertarian Garrett Michael Hayes was a distant third with 3.8 percent.

Perdue, who ran ahead of Taylor throughout the evening, also held a substantial lead in the polls all through the campaign, reflecting a state moving increasingly into the Republican fold.

The first clear sign of that trend came four years ago, when Perdue - then a state senator from Bonaire - ousted Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes from office in a major upset that had not been foreseen by the polls.

Taylor was gracious in defeat. He told his supporters that he had called Perdue to wish him well during the next four years.

"Tonight, the people of Georgia have spoken. I accept their judgment,'' Taylor said.

"We waged a campaign as Democrats and Republicans. Now, it's our duty to unite as Georgians.''

After serving as lieutenant governor for eight years, Taylor sought to lead a Democratic comeback this year.

But the former six-term state senator from Albany took on Perdue in a much different political landscape for Democrats than 2002, when Barnes had been unopposed for the party's nomination and could spend millions of dollars just on the general election campaign.

Taylor tapped out his resources in a hard-fought primary race against Secretary of State Cathy Cox and had to start from scratch raising money to challenge Perdue.

As a result, Taylor ceded the air waves to the Republican incumbent between the July 18 primary and early October, while Perdue ran a series of feel-good ads touting his accomplishments and, with his "Sonny-do list,'' asking voters for ideas for his second term.

But both sides began hammering each other about a month from Election Day.

Taylor went after Perdue's so-called Disney World land deal, the governor's purchase of property in Central Florida from a developer he previously had appointed to a state board. The lieutenant governor said the $2 million "sweetheart'' deal was actually worth $40 million because of the land's development potential.

Taylor also accused Perdue of getting his sometime personal lawyer and legislative ally, Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, to amend a tax bill late in the 2005 legislative session to secure the governor a retroactive $100,000 property tax break.

Perdue responded to Taylor's ad with one of his own charging the lieutenant governor with lying. The ad made its point by showing an image of Taylor with his nose growing like Pinocchio.

Perdue dismissed Taylor's attacks as the "wild accusations'' of a desperate candidate and stuck to his message of a governor who had inherited a budget deficit and turned it into a surplus by forcing state agencies to live within their means.

Perdue cited Georgia's increasing high-school graduation rate and climb from the bottom of the nation in SAT scores as evidence that he's on the right track when it comes to improving education.

Taylor criticized the governor's handling of education. The challenger said the overall increase in education spending during Perdue's tenure masked $1.25 billion in cuts to the state's K-12 per-pupil funding formula, which forced about 100 local school systems to raise property taxes.