But the question late Tuesday was would he face a Democrat or a fellow Republican?
With 99 percent of precincts reporting in the 10th congressional district, Republican Paul Broun, a doctor from Athens, led Democrat James Marlow, an Internet businessman from Lincolnton, by just 22 votes.
The razor-thin margin means a recount is almost guaranteed, creating uncertainty in advance of the July 17 runoff.
The race is the first congressional election since Democrats won control of Congress in 2006 and it's being watched for clues on how heated issues like Iraq and immigration will play out in next year's national elections.
The largely rural district, which includes Athens and parts of Augusta, has voted Republican for more than a decade.
The secretary of state's office predicted turnout at only about 10 percent of the district's 340,562 registered voters. Actual turnout was a little bit higher, with about 16 percent of voters casting a ballot.
Norwood was serving his seventh term in Congress when he died in February after battling cancer and lung disease.
Whitehead, of Evans, enjoyed the backing of the party establishment _ as well as Norwood's family _ and far outpaced his opponents in the race for campaign cash. He resigned his state Senate seat to run for Congress.
Broun, who bragged that he still makes house calls, has high name recognition in the district. His father was a longtime Democratic state senator from the area.
Marlow lined up early support from many local Democratic leaders. He campaigned aggressively against Whitehead, hammering away at his remark early in the campaign that Iraq was "not a big thing in our district."
The four other Republicans in the race were Bill Greene of Braselton, Mark Myers of Loganville, Nate Pulliam of Conyers and Erik Underwood of Atlanta.
Evita Paschall of Evans and Denise Freeman of Tignall also ran as Democrats. Jim Sendelbach of Conyers was the lone Libertarian on the ballot.
On Monday, candidates scrambled to reach out to voters, holding rallies across the district,
The district includes the counties of Banks, Clarke, Columbia, Elbert, Franklin, Greene, Habersham, Hart, Jackson, Lincoln, Madison, McDuffie, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Putnam, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Wilkes, and part of Richmond.
Former eight-term state Rep. Bill Jackson easily won the race to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Whitehead, with 63 percent of the vote. Columbia County Planning Commissioner Brett McGuire and special needs learning specialist Lee Benedict were the other Republicans in the race. The lone Democrat was Scott Nichols, Columbia County Democratic Party chairman.