Mayor Bob Young was expected to secure a second term in office while holding a 21-vote lead over challenger Ed McIntyre in early election returns - although more than 5,000 absentee ballots were left to be counted.
With 71 of 72 precincts reporting at 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, Mr. Young had 50.03 percent of the vote to Mr. McIntyre's 49.97 percent.
"I don't want to jinx it, but I didn't get in this race to lose," Mr. Young said while awaiting the final numbers from his campaign party.
To win the runoff and a four-year term as mayor, a candidate had to receive a simple majority - at least 50 percent plus one of the total votes cast.
"It's coming down to absentees," Mr. McIntyre said, which is where he has concentrated campaign efforts during the past three weeks.
"I feel very good," he said as results were being tallied. "I'm satisfied with what I've done."
Usually, absentee ballots favor the Republican candidate, which - even though the mayor's race is nonpartisan - would be Mr. Young, said Ralph Walker, a professor emeritus of political science at Augusta State University.
He predicted that Mr. McIntyre would need to have a 600-vote lead prior to absentee returns to have a chance to win. About 5,500 absentee ballots had been issued before Tuesday.
But campaign workers with Mr. McIntyre's camp said they had concentrated on increasing their absentee votes in the runoff - particularly from south Augusta voters.
"We aren't afraid of the absentees," said King Singleton Sr., a McIntyre campaign worker.
Mr. Young ran strong in the west Augusta and Hill area precincts, securing more than 70 percent of the vote at polling places such as First Baptist Church off Walton Way and National Hills Baptist Church on Washington Road.
Alternately, Mr. McIntyre dominated predominantly black precincts, securing more than 90 percent of the vote at several inner-city polling places, including Johnson Recreation Center, Second Mount Moriah Church and Eastview Recreation Center.
Returns indicated that Mr. McIntyre was doing better in white precincts than Mr. Young was in black precincts - picking up a larger percentage of white votes than he did during the general election.
Voter turnout was 48 percent Tuesday - significantly less than the 60 percent voter turnout recorded during the general election.
Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Young went to Tuesday's runoff after none of five candidates in the Nov. 5 general election received 45 percent of the vote. Mr. McIntyre was the top vote-getter in that election, receiving 40 percent of the vote to Mr. Young's 38 percent.
Staff Writers Tom Corwin, Johnny Edwards and Mike Wynn contributed to this report.
Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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