Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss won re-election Tuesday in a runoff, dashing Democrats' hopes of capturing enough seats in the U.S. Senate to thwart Republican filibusters.
Chambliss' election to a second term gives the GOP a firewall against Democrats eager to flex their newfound political muscle in Washington. The monthlong runoff battle against Democrat Jim Martin captured the national limelight, drawing political luminaries from both parties to the state and flooding the airwaves with fresh attack ads.
Minnesota — where a recount is under way — now remains the only unresolved Senate contest in the country. With 92 percent of the recount completed, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s tally had Republican Norm Coleman leading Democrat Al Franken by 340 votes, with nearly 6,000 ballots challenged.
With 90 percent of the precincts reporting, Chambliss captured 59 percent to Martin's 41 percent. Chambliss' win is a rare bright spot for Republicans in a year where they lost the White House as well as seats in the House and the Senate.
Martin's campaign said he had called Chambliss to concede and was expected to address some 200 supporters gathered at an Atlanta party shortly.
Lead-in to 2010?
Chambliss portrayed his win as an encouraging sign for Republicans looking to regroup as they head into the next election cycle.
"I'm excited to be the first race that leads us into the 2010 campaign because it'll be a tough fight," Chambliss said at a victory party in Cobb County.
Chambliss' mantra on the runoff campaign trail was simple: His re-election was critical to prevent Democrats in Washington from having a blank check. Chambliss, 65, had angered some conservatives with his vote for the $700 billion bailout of the financial services industry and his early support in 2007 for the guest worker provision in President Bush's immigration bill. But fearful of unchecked Democratic dominance, some came back into the GOP fold Tuesday
Martin made the economy the centerpiece of his bid, casting himself as a champion for the neglected middle class. He also linked himself at every opportunity to Barack Obama and his message of change. The Democratic president elect was a no-show on the campaign trail in Georgia but did record a radio ad and automated phone calls for Martin.
In the end, Martin, a 63-year-old former state lawmaker from Atlanta, wasn't able to get Obama voters back to the polls in large enough numbers to overcome the Republican advantage in Georgia, which has become an increasingly a reliable red state since 2002.
Turnout was light throughout the state Tuesday. A spokesman for Secretary of State Karen Handel predicted between 18 and 20 percent of the state's 5.75 million registered voters would cast ballots — far less than the 65 percent who voted in last month's general election.
The runoff between the former University of Georgia fraternity brothers was necessary after a three-way general election prevented any of the candidates from getting the necessary 50 percent.
Chambliss' argument that he's needed as a firewall to Democratic dominance in Washington resonated with some voters.
Murray Gottlieb, 54, a caterer in Savannah, said he voted for Chambliss because he doesn't want complete Democratic control of the Senate.
"I support Barack Obama now. I hope he's the best president we've ever had and we get out of the funk we're in, but I don't want to give him that much power," Gottlieb said after casting his ballot at a church in Savannah.
The ailing economy brought architect Glen McClure, 47, out for Martin.
"My motivation is, I'm unemployed as of yesterday," he said at a library-turned-polling place in Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood.
Came to the Senate in 2002
Chambliss came to the Senate in 2002 after defeating Democratic Sen. Max Cleland in a campaign that infuriated Democrats. Chambliss ran a TV ad that questioned Cleland's commitment to national security and flashed a photo of Osama bin Laden. Cleland is a triple amputee wounded in the Vietnam War.
Chambliss was a loyal supporter of President Bush and, as a freshman, rose to become chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The former agriculture lawyer from Moultrie has been the ranking Republican on the panel since Democrats won control of the Senate.
Some 3.7 million people cast ballots in this year's general election, and both sides have since tried to keep voters' attention with a barrage of ads and visits by political heavy-hitters.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore both stumped for Martin. President-elect Barack Obama recorded a radio ad for Martin and sent 100 field operatives, but he didn't campaign in the state despite a request from Martin to do so.
Several ex-Republican presidential candidates made appearances for Chambliss, including GOP nominee John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Chambliss brought in Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's vice presidential pick, as his closer. She headlined four rallies for Chambliss across the state Monday that drew thousands of party faithful.