ATLANTA -- Michael Thurmond, the former state welfare chief who made a late entrance to the labor commissioner race, led two rivals Tuesday in the Democratic primary.
In the Republican race, John Frank Collins, who had lost in eight previous attempts at statewide office, was leading two other candidates.
With 1,083 of 2,751 precincts reporting, Mr. Thurmond had 64,452 votes, or 42 percent. Richard McGee of Waycross, a former deputy labor commissioner, was next with 44,737 votes, or 30 percent. State Sen. Steve Henson of Stone Mountain was a close third, with 42,834 votes, or 28 percent.
On the GOP side, Mr. Collins had 63,147 votes, or 53 percent, with 1,070 of 2,751 precincts reporting. Real estate manager Jeb Fuller of Marietta had 28,959 votes, or 24 percent, and Rick Millsaps of Lilburn had 26,976, or 23 percent.
Mr. Collins had lost in eight attempts for the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Thurmond praised his campaign effort and said he is confident of victory. But, he added, "We fully expect a runoff."
The race attracted six candidates -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- when Labor Commissioner David Poythress decided to run for governor.
The Democrats emphasized their experience in job training and welfare reform, while the Republicans debated how to change Georgia's unemployment tax.
In another statewide battle Tuesday, a state legislator and an insurance adjuster were fighting a close battle in the Democratic primary for the right to challenge Republican Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.
The winner of the primary between state Rep. Henrietta Canty and claims adjuster Tim Dunn will face a difficult task trying to unseat Mr. Oxendine, who had no primary opposition and raised more than $1 million to defend his seat.
With 547 of 2,751 precincts -- or 20 percent -- reporting, Rep. Canty had 36,859 votes, or 51 percent; and Mr. Dunn had 35,057 votes, or 49 percent.
Besides the power to approve insurance rate increases, the commissioner also regulates small-loan companies and serves as the state fire commissioner, making sure public buildings comply with fire safety codes.
The nominees from both parties will meet in a November general election that will include Libertarian candidate Joshua Batchelder of Atlanta.