Relieved Republicans celebrated a resounding win in Georgia’s hard-fought US Senate runoff, a victory that denied Democrats a filibuster-proof majority and cemented the state’s reputation as a Republican bastion.
Senator Saxby Chambliss trounced Democrat Jim Martin on Tuesday night, winning his second term by a margin of more than 10 percentage points.
The race dashed the Democrats’ hopes of a 60-seat majority immune to Senate filibusters, which would have given president-elect Barack Obama a stronger hand moving his agenda.
A Martin victory was a longshot in Georgia. A Democrat hasn’t won an open statewide seat since 1998.
Martin hoped to capitalize on excitement surrounding Obama, but was unable to get many of the president-elect’s voters back to the polls one month after the general election. Obama never came to the state to campaign for Martin, although he recorded automated phone calls and a radio ad for the former state lawmaker from Atlanta.
Chambliss revved up the state’s vaunted Republican turnout operation and kept a parade of former Republican presidential candidates traipsing through the state to whip up enthusiasm.
He brought in Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the former candidate for vice president, as his closer. She headlined four rallies for Chambliss across the state Monday that drew thousands of party faithful.
Minnesota — where a recount is under way — now remains the only unresolved Senate contest in the country. But the stakes there are significantly lower now that Georgia has put a 60-seat Democratic majority out of reach.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Chambliss captured 57 percent of votes to Martin’s 43 percent.
Martin called Chambliss to concede before 10pm, then emerged to tell supporters as his voice cracked: “For me and my family and campaign team and all of you this is a sad moment.”
Chambliss portrayed himself as a firewall against Democrats in Washington getting a blank check.
“You have delivered a message that a balance in government in Washington is necessary and that’s not only what the people of Georgia want, it’s what the people of America want,” Chambliss told 500 cheering supporters at a victory rally in Cobb County.
Martin, 63, made the economy the centerpiece of his bid, casting himself as a champion for the neglected middle class.
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.