ATLANTA -- Sonny Perdue, a former Democrat, mounted the Republican party's strongest bid for the Georgia governorship in over 130 years Tuesday, on the brink of a shocking upset of Gov. Roy Barnes.
No Republican has held the governor's seat in Georgia since 1872 and no Democrat has been denied a second term since the law was changed to allow George Busbee to seek eight consecutive years in 1978.
With 77 percent of precincts counted, Perdue had 51 percent of the vote to Barnes' 47 percent and Libertarian Garrett Michael Hayes' 2 percent. Some urban votes, which lean Democratic, remained to be counted.
Early in the evening, Perdue told supporters the weather on election day may have been rainy but he added, "There's going to be a 'Sonny' day in Georgia."
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.