Senate outcome uncertain

ATLANTA -- The U.S. Senate race that seemed nearly settled last night has become more cloudy as late returns trickle in, raising the possibility of a December runoff between Sen. Saxby Chambliss and challenger Jim Martin.

Martin remains confident this morning, planning a press conference for noon, in which he’ll outline his plans for the four-week campaign. A spokeswoman for Chambliss, who leads but may fall short of the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff, did not return a call this morning seeking comment.

Meanwhile, supporters of Libertarian Allen Buckley, the third man in Tuesday’s election, will likely be courted by Chambliss and Martin. Buckley hasn’t made his position known, but in Sunday’s statewide debate he said Martin is a good man but the wrong one to be senator and that Chambliss had been a terrible senator.

Chambliss leads in figures supplied by the Secretary of State’s Office, with 49.9 percent compared to Martin’s 46.7 and Buckley’s 3.4 percent. But Georgia law requires a runoff between the two top vote-getters when no candidate receives more than 50 percent.

So far, counties have reported only 96 percent of their total precincts. Many counties are treating votes cast in early voting on machines in person and by main-in absentee ballots as additional precincts, making it difficult for state officials to know the number of votes remaining to be counted.

Some counties reported their early and absentee ballots shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday while other counties chose to tally those votes last, causing the continuing lag in returns.

Two other statewide runoffs were certain last night, in the seven-person race for a vacant seat on the Court of Appeals, and for a vacant seat on the Public Service Commission. The date for the runoff is Dec. 2.

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