ATLANTA - The race to replace the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood appeared headed for a recount, as an Athens doctor clung to razor-thin lead over a former Georgia state lawmaker on Tuesday night.
Paul Broun led Jim Whitehead, of Evans, by just 394 votes. With 46,634 votes cast, that's within the 1 percent margin needed for the apparent loser to be granted a recount upon request. Ninety-nine percent of precincts had reported.
Still outstanding are military, overseas and provisional ballots. The military and overseas ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday but have until Friday to arrive at county elections offices. It was not immediately clear how many of those ballots had been distributed.
The camps for both Republicans struck an optimistic tone Tuesday night, saying they expected the remaining votes would go their way.
Broun and Whitehead, both Republicans, were the top vote-getters to emerge from the crowded 10-candidate field in the June 19 special election to replace Norwood, a tough-talking conservative who died in February after battling cancer and lung disease.
A win by Broun would be a stunning upset.
Whitehead, the clear frontrunner, drew 44 percent of the vote in the June 19 special election. That was more than double the 21 percent Broun drew. He outspent Broun by a more than 2-to-1 margin and lined up support GOP support from most local GOP party leaders as well as Norwood's wife, Gloria.
Whitehead argued that his experience in the state Legislature would allow him to hit the ground running in Washington.
Broun cast himself as an outsider who would serve regular citizens rather than political bosses and special interests. Broun has run for office before without success. But he enjoyed high name recognition in the Athens area, where his father was a longtime Democratic state senator.
The race highlighted strong regional rivalries between the district's two largest cities - Athens and Augusta. The results Tuesday night bore that out. Broun performed well in Athens while Whitehead's base of support was in Augusta and the surrounding areas.
The largely rural 10th congressional district has voted Republican for the last decade and the candidates battled throughout the race to outflank each other on the right.
The campaign became increasingly testy in the final days. Broun was forced to distance himself from an e-mail sent out by his wife, Niki, that appeared to question Whitehead's faith.
Whitehead issued a news release questioning Broun's conservative bona fides saying his response to a questionnaire from the Athens Banner-Herald showed that he was not sufficiently opposed to gay marriage and legalized marijuana.
Broun had not addressed the issues directly but said that he supported state's rights.
Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel has not predicted voter turnout for the runoff but political observers expected that turnout would be light.
Some 16 percent of the district's 340,562 registered voters turnout in the June 19 race.