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Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - 4:01pm

GOP Governor's Contest Too Tight to Call

The GOP gubernatorial race was too close to call Tuesday night. With nearly all precincts reporting, Nathan Deal held 50.2% of the vote, with Karen Handel 49.8%. The difference is about 2,500 votes.

Most of the votes had been tallied with some absentee ballots still uncounted. Karen Handel’s campaign thinks they’ll come out in her favor.

Just before she called it a night before midnight, Handel told her supporters to remain positive.

"We’re just going to stay optimistic for the rest of the night. See what happens with these absentee ballots and keep the faith and party on … thank you," says Handel.

Handel’s campaign manager says they’ve had a strong absentee ballot program.

“There are more than 6,700 votes absentee ballots that are still out in Fulton and Gwinnett counties. We had a very aggressive absentee ballot program in those counties. Deal did not have one at all, so we think the majority of those will break for us," says Dan McClagan.

Still when the final votes are counted, the race may be so close, the loser can request a recount.

The Handel campaign was hunkered down at an Atlanta hotel. A big screen displayed the results from the Secretary of State’s website. Hundreds of Karen Handel supporters watched the numbers swing between their candidate and her opponent, former Congressman Nathan Deal throughout the night.

Handel led Deal in the early count, but after more and more votes came in, Deal kept a small but steady lead over the former secretary of state. Earlier in the evening, Lillian Smith from Columbia County near Augusta said she wasn't surprised by the results.

"We still have a large percentage of the results sitting in Fulton County which is strong Karen," Smith says. "So we’re still optimistically looking for positive results for Karen.

Handel’s campaign said they knew the race would be really close.

When she arrived at the hotel, Handel said Georgians want something different.

“Well our state is ready for a next generation leader, a person who is going to put forth fresh ideas and a bold vision for Georgia," Handel said. "And the answers for our state do not lie in a career Washington politician.”

Among Handel’s ideas is permanently cutting the state’s work force ten percent to help balance the state’s budget.

The Republican went into Tuesday's runoff race for GOP candidate for Governor with a slight lead in the polls against her opponent Nathan Deal.

At the night's start, she said she was optimistic about the outcome and Monday's visit from former Republican Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin helped out.

"You know having someone like that who was able to inject so much momentum and energy into the campaign the day before the runoff which put a lot of attention onto the runoff to help get our voters as motivated as possible to come out and vote today," Handel said.

Handel drew comparisons between her and the former Alaskan governor, saying they’re both reformers and outsiders of the establishment.

As results trickled in, her campaign manager McClagan said they’d be watching to see how voters have shifted since the crowded primary last month.

“I don’t think there’s a bell weather county. You look at how you do in a county vs. how we did in the primary, see where other supporters have gone," McClagan said. "Chatham [county] for instance, we’ll be watching to see and if that starts breaking heavily for us, then we’ll know Eric Johnson’s supporters in general have started coming to Karen.”

Tuesday's winner will face Democrat Roy Barnes and Libertarian John Monds in November.

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