ATLANTA - Two-time Republican nominee Guy Millner struggled Tuesday to beat back the GOP gubernatorial challenge of Michael Bowers, who lost front-runner status in the governor's race last year when he acknowledged a lengthy extramarital affair.
In the Democratic race for governor, state Sen. Roy Barnes led the primary throughout the vote count but remained short of a majority needed to avoid an Aug. 11 runoff.
Mr. Barnes was expected to lead the Democratic primary. However, Mr. Bowers' showing was shocking, considering polls last week showing Mr. Millner with a 40-percentage point lead.
With 72 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Millner had 142,659 votes, or 51 percent, while Mr. Bowers had 109,972 votes, or 39 percent. Conservative activist Nancy Schaefer and businessman Bruce Hatfield took the rest.
In the six-way Democratic primary, state Rep. Roy Barnes was trying to avoid a runoff with Secretary of State Lewis Massey. Mr. Barnes portrayed himself as the voice of experience, and the youthful-looking Mr. Massey laid claim to Gov. Zell Miller's mantle.
With 72 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Barnes had 157,558 votes, or 48 percent, while Mr. Massey had 94,032 votes, or 29 percent.
Runoffs are held between the top two voter-getters if no candidates receive a majority.
If there is a Democratic runoff, former two-time Democratic congressional nominee David Worley predicted, "It's going to be three weeks of unshirted hell with Roy beating up on Lewis because Roy's got $1 million in the bank and Lewis doesn't have a penny."
Tuesday's primaries were the first step toward replacing Mr. Miller, who was barred by the Georgia Constitution from running for another term.
Mr. Barnes ran against Mr. Miller in 1990 for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, but finished third in the primary. Mr. Miller went on to win his first term.
In 1994, Mr. Miller won a second term by beating Mr. Millner.
Mr. Millner also won the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 1996, only to lose in the general election to Max Cleland.
A little more than a year ago, Mr. Bowers was the Republican favorite and Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard the likely Democratic nominee.
However, Mr. Bowers' chances were badly damaged by his admission of the more than decade-long extramarital affair, and Mr. Howard dropped out of the race.
That left the door open for Mr. Millner, Mr. Barnes and Mr. Massey.
Mr. Millner, founder of Norrell Temporary Services, has promised to eliminate the state's auto tag tax, improve teacher standards and cut elementary school class sizes.
"The ad valorem tax elimination has been a home run," Mr. Millner said.
"People can understand and believe it. People like the idea that I want to cut class sizes, but they're not sure you can do it. They like the fact that I want to eliminate parole, but they are not sure I can do it. The (tax) elimination, people can understand and believe it."
Mr. Millner was already preparing Tuesday night as if Mr. Barnes had won the Democratic nomination.
"I believe voters are saying, `we've got enough political experience down there with the likes of (House Speaker) Tom Murphy and Roy Barnes,"' he said. "Now they are looking for someone with business experience."
The Democratic race was tame until early July, with most of the candidates promising tax cuts and better schools.
But Mr. Massey, trailing Mr. Barnes in the polls, began slamming the frontrunner over his record in the General Assembly and his opposition during the 1990 campaign to the state lottery.