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12th District runoff: Who will face Anderson?
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    ATLANTA — Republican voters in east Georgia will have to return to the polls in three weeks to choose a challenger for the Deep South's last white Democrat in Congress, though it remained unclear Wednesday exactly which GOP candidates would appear on the runoff ballot.
    State Rep. Lee Anderson, a farmer from Grovetown, clinched a spot in the runoff in east Georgia's 12th District after finishing far ahead of three rivals in the Republican primary Tuesday. But it could be take another week or more to determine who finished in second place.
    Unofficial returns showed construction company owner Rick W. Allen barely ahead of attorney Wright McLeod, with just 570 votes separating the two Augusta candidates. That's less than 1 percent of the 59,865 votes counted — narrow enough to guarantee McLeod a recount if that margin holds up in the official tally.
    Whoever emerges as the runnerup will face Anderson in the Aug. 21 runoff to determine the Republican nominee to take on Democratic Rep. John Barrow of Augusta in November. Barrow's district was redrawn last year to give the GOP its best shot in years at ousting the four-term incumbent.
    McLeod told supporters via email Wednesday that he's not bowing out yet. He intends to wait until the primary results are finalized before deciding whether to request a recount.
    "At this time, we are leaving that option on the table," McLeod said. "I must consider whether or not a recount would be in the best interest of the voters of the 12th District. Our campaign recognizes that requesting such would provide a 'trust but verify' approach to the election results and allow us all to move forward."
    Meanwhile, Allen resumed campaigning as though his place in the runoff wasn't in question. He reached out to donors by phone and joined a long lunch line of patrons at an Augusta Chick-fil-A on a day when conservatives were showing support for a restaurant executive's recent comments on family and marriage.
    "Until we're notified of anything different, we're full speed ahead," said Allen, who was already casting the GOP campaign as "a two-man race" between himself and Anderson.
    Still, Allen stopped short of calling on McLeod to concede.
    "It's up to Wright," Allen said. "It's in his court and we're just waiting for him to make that call."
    Election officials said Wednesday only 35 overseas absentee ballots that were mailed out for the primary remained unreturned in the district. And it was unclear how many provisional ballots might still be added to the vote total. Secretary of State Brian Kemp doesn't expect to certify official election results until Monday or Tuesday, spokesman Jared Thomas said.
    McLeod would have two business days to ask for a recount if the official margin between him and Allen is 1 percent of the vote or less. Still, it's unlikely a recount would change much. In an era of electronic voting, recounting votes isn't much different from punching the same set of numbers into a calculator a second time.
    Anderson also plunged back into campaigning for the runoff, making calls Wednesday to reconnect with donors and raise money for the coming weeks, said Reagan Williams, his campaign manager. He said the candidate wasn't concerned about who would be his runoff opponent.
    "I don't think it matters," Williams said. "We have our message, and we believe the winning message to be 'beat John Barrow.'"
    Anderson came out on top with 34 percent of the vote Tuesday night. That put him more than 5,000 votes ahead of Allen and McLeod, who took roughly 25 percent of the vote apiece. Dublin attorney Maria Sheffield finished last with 15 percent.
    The Republican contenders all staked a six-figure sum of their own money, for a combined total of $668,000 — or about 57 cents for every dollar the candidates raised from outside donors.
    The fall general election is sure to be expensive as well. Barrow has $1.3 million in the bank to defend his seat. And the GOP runoff winner will benefit from $900,000 the National Republican Congressional Committee has pledged to spend in the district on TV ads in the general election.

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