ATLANTA --- Two major-party candidates with baggage. A less-than-enthusiastic electorate. A Libertarian to siphon away disenchanted voters.
These factors could combine to send Georgia's hotly contested race for governor into a Nov. 30 runoff. The scenario is gaining currency in state political circles in a year in which some voters seem unsatisfied with their choices for the state's top spot.
Democrat Roy Barnes is running against a stiff Republican headwind and lingering resentment over his single term in the Governor's Mansion. Republican Nathan Deal has been hammered over financial troubles and alleged ethics problems.
If the race is tight, Libertarian John Monds could keep both candidates below the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win outright.
A runoff would mean four more weeks of grueling campaigning in a race already rife with hostility. Money from outside groups would almost certainly pour into Georgia, with Democrats hungry to pick up a seat in a reliably red state and Republicans intent on denying them bragging rights.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said that to his knowledge a Democrat has never won a statewide general election runoff in Georgia. Democrats ruled state politics for generations, so Republican candidates never got close enough to force a runoff. Since Republicans have gained control of the state, they've prevailed in runoffs.
"So a runoff would almost certainly favor Nathan Deal," Bullock said. "Especially this year where the national climate leans so heavily Republican."
Georgia's 2008 U.S. Senate runoff drew political heavy hitters from Sarah Palin to Bill Clinton to the state. Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who fell just shy of an election-night victory in a three-way contest, won in a runoff that lacked the heavy Democratic turnout that elected Obama.