ATLANTA -- Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss battled for a second term Tuesday, fighting a surge of Democratic voters and frustration over the economy.
With 44 percent of precincts reporting, Chambliss led Democrat Jim Martin 57 percent to 40 percent. Libertarian Allen Buckley — who could force the race into a Dec. 2 runoff if no candidate wins more than 50 percent when all the votes are counted — was pulling 3 percent.
At a Republican victory party at the Intercontinental Hotel in Atlanta on Tuesday night, Chambliss predicted the race would be "very, very close."
"We feel confident that we've got a great opportunity to win without a runoff, but it's going to be a long night," Chambliss said. "It will not be a runaway."
The last Senate runoff in Georgia was in 1992 when Republican Paul Coverdell defeated Democrat Wyche Fowler. A runoff in Georgia would take on added significance — and would grab the national spotlight — if Democrats pull within striking distance of a filibuster-proof, 60-seaet majority.
Chambliss, Martin and their surrogates have both been blanketing the Georgia airwaves with tough attack ads in recent weeks amid signs that the race was tightening. Martin has painted Chambliss as being in lockstep with the unpopular President Bush. Chambliss has cast Martin as a pawn of liberal Democratic Party leaders in Washington.
The wave of Democrats lining up to vote for presidential hopeful Barack Obama is expected to benefit the lesser-known Martin, a former state lawmaker and state human resources commissioner. Chambliss is relying on the state's vaunted GOP turnout machine to send him to another term.
For some Democratic voters, ousting Chambliss would be revenge for his bare-knuckles 2002 campaign against Max Cleland, a triple amputee wounded in the Vietnam War. Chambliss ran an ad that questioned the Democrat's commitment to national security.
"He's a scandal," Russell Chambers, a 67-year-old English professor from Savannah, said of Chambliss. "What he did to Cleland six years ago is appalling."
William Rice, a retired U.S. Air Force reservist, also voted Martin.
"I see Saxby as being too much of a carbon copy of Bush," said the 79-year-old from Albany.
Laura Freck, of Decatur, said Chambliss' support for the "fair tax," which would eliminate the income tax and replace it with a national sales tax, won her vote.
"I have more Libertarian leanings," the 32-year-old said. Chambliss backing of the "fair tax" has been a pivotal theme in the race. Democrats have spent millions of dollars in Georgia attacking his support for the plan saying it would raise taxes on items people buy everyday. Chambliss has called the ads misleading.
Among Georgia's congressional races, Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall was beating back a challenge from Republican Rick Goddard, who once commanded Robins Air Force Base, the state's largest military installation that sits in the heart of the 8th Congressional District. In 2006, Marshall, a former mayor of Macon, eked out a win by just 1,752 votes against former U.S. Rep. Mac Collins.
Three Republican House incumbents were projected to win new terms. In the 6th District, Rep. Tom Price was projected to defeat Democrat Bill Jones; Rep. John Linder was holding off Democrat Doug Heckman in the 7th District; and in the 9th District, Rep. Nathan Deal fended off Democrat Jeff Scott.
Rep. David Scott, of Atlanta, has also been locked in a bitter race with Republican Deborah Honeycutt in the 13th Congressional District, which covers west Atlanta and its suburbs.