Although former Republican state Sen. Jim Whitehead, of Columbia County, was the clear vote leader Tuesday, a holdup in overseas absentee ballots and individual county rulings on some provisional votes are delaying determination of his opponent.
Republican Paul Broun, an Athens doctor, had a 187-vote lead Wednesday over Democrat James Marlow for a spot on the nonpartisan ballot with Mr. Whitehead.
Mr. Broun said Wednesday that he thought his lead would hold up.
"I don't think a recount is going to make any difference," he said. "I believe in my heart that we're No. 2. We're proceeding on in that regard. I'm already raising money, planning events, and we're designing the rest of our campaign. So we're already at a sprint."
Mr. Marlow, a Lincoln County native, issued a statement Wednesday saying he had called to congratulate both Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Broun but was waiting before formally conceding.
"Once all of the votes are in, we will make an assessment about whether further action is appropriate," he said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 97 percent of precincts had been counted, showing Mr. Whitehead with 43.5 percent of the vote to Mr. Broun's 20.7 percent and Mr. Marlow's 20.3 percent.
Should the vote difference between Mr. Broun and Mr. Marlow remain at 1 percent or less, Mr. Marlow could request a recount within 48 hours after the vote is certified.
"We'll have to make that determination (about a possible recount) after we look at the final numbers. ... And if we have the opportunity to be in a runoff, we're going to be in it and fight aggressively," Mr. Marlow said Wednesday.
Friday might be the earliest day to check the outstanding votes.
Vicki Gavalas, a spokeswoman for Georgia's Secretary of State office, said overseas votes were to be postmarked by Tuesday, but aren't due to be counted until Friday. She said there's no way know if there might be enough votes to change the outcome.
The total number of provisional votes also won't be verified until Friday, she said. A provisional vote is one in which a voter's name isn't on the list at a polling place, but the person is allowed to vote. The ballot is counted only after registration is verified. In Columbia County there's just one provisional vote to be confirmed.
Mr. Whitehead said he's already preparing for the runoff and is planning to take part in three broadcast debates between now and the July 17 runoff. He would not, however, say which candidate he wanted to face.
Either way, Mr. Whitehead has advantages, one political observer said Wednesday.
Paul Harris, an associate professor of political science at Augusta State University, said he believes Mr. Whitehead's support base wins him the runoff no matter whom he faces. He said a runoff against Mr. Marlow would be closer, adding that there doesn't seem to be solid Republican support for Mr. Broun in his hometown of Athens and an all-GOP race wouldn't generate as much attention.
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.