ATLANTA -- A Republican captured the Georgia governor's office for the first time in more than 130 years Tuesday as former state Sen. Sonny Perdue pulled off a stunning upset of Democrat Roy Barnes.
Perdue claimed his historic victory around midnight, saying Barnes had just telephoned his concession and he had received a congratulatory call from President George W. Bush.
"The people won," Perdue shouted to a jubilant crowd at his celebration party. On the TV screens, a man briefly held the state's old flag, with its prominent Confederate symbol, in the background.
Perdue, a former Democrat, had opposed Barnes' push to remove the rebel symbol and promised to allow a public referendum.
No Republican has held the governor's seat in Georgia since 1872 and Barnes is the first sitting governor to be denied a second term since the law was changed in 1978 to allow George Busbee to serve back-to-back terms.
As governor, Perdue will lead a government that still is largely Democrat. The Legislature looked to remain in Democratic hands, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the Senate's presiding officer, was re-elected. Speaker Tom Murphy, however, was trailing a Republican in his legislative district.
With 79 percent of precincts counted, Perdue had 51 percent of the vote to Barnes' 47 percent and Libertarian Garrett Michael Hayes' 2 percent.
"This suggests there was an awful lot more anger at Roy Barnes than anything was picking up," said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock."
Perdue denounced Barnes as arrogant, declared his effort to improve education a failure and promised a referendum on the new flag Barnes pushed through the Legislature last year. The new design all but eliminated the fighting banner of the Confederacy.
Barnes portrayed himself as a governor who did not shy away from the state's toughest issues and, backed by an aggressive fund-raising effort, pumped a record $19 million into his re-election campaign. He led in a a pre-election poll.
Hayes insisted there was little difference between Barnes and Perdue.
Democrats have controlled the governor's office since 1872. Georgia was the only state that did not elect a Republican governor during the 20th century.
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