SAVANNAH, Ga. — Republican Lee Anderson on Wednesday declared the victorious start of "a new day and a new race" in his congressional campaign for east Georgia's 12th District while GOP primary rival Rick W. Allen insisted their runoff election was too close — with just 154 votes separating the candidates and some ballots still uncounted — to settle without a recount.
Unofficial returns from the Tuesday runoff election showed Anderson, a state lawmaker and hay farmer from Grovetown, edging Augusta businessman Allen by barely one-half of 1 percent of the total 27,406 votes counted. And dozens of military and overseas absentee ballots could still trickle in and be counted by the end of August because of a judge's order.
Stakes are high in the 12th District, where four-term Democratic Rep. John Barrow is vulnerable after his district was redrawn last year to remove his home and political base of Savannah. That forced Barrow to move to Augusta and face a more conservative constituency. A four-way primary last month for the GOP nomination to challenge Barrow gave way to a runoff Tuesday between Anderson and Allen.
"We are going to wait until this election is certified and then we will be requesting a recount," said Scott Paradise, campaign manager for Allen, a construction company CEO who poured $540,000 of his own money into the race. "With the time invested and the financial investment Rick made, I think he's interested in making sure that this vote was accurate."
Anderson, 55, was plowing ahead Wednesday as though his victory were rock-solid. He spent the day calling and thanking supporters and making a new fundraising pitch for donors to support him in the fall campaign against Barrow, the Deep South's last white Democratic congressman.
In an email to supporters, Anderson didn't hedge his claim to victory in the least and declared the primary campaign old news.
"Today is a new day and a new race for Georgia's 12th District," Anderson wrote. "Yesterday, with your help, I was able to solidify the Republican nomination for this great district. With your help, I know we will be able to begin to take back our country in November."
Still, Secretary of State Brian Kemp won't certify an official outcome for the Anderson-Allen runoff until next week at the soonest. And the 154-vote margin could still change.
Kemp's spokesman, Jared Thomas, said Wednesday there were still 139 military and overseas absentee ballots that hadn't been returned. Any of those ballots will still be counted if they're postmarked by the runoff date and received by Aug. 31. The time extension was ordered by a federal judge after the Justice Department declared Georgia's three-week runoff period was too short to fairly turn around absentee ballots mailed overseas.
There is also an unknown, but normally tiny, number of provisional ballots due to be reported by the close of business Friday.
Allen is guaranteed a recount if the official margin between him and Anderson remains less than 1 percent of the vote. However, it's a long shot that the outcome will change.
Electronic voting machines have made re-tabulating election results much like punching the same numbers into a calculator a second time. Allen knows that firsthand. After the primary three weeks ago, Allen had to wait for a recount to determine if he made the runoff with Anderson. The new tally changed the result by just four votes.
Anderson's campaign manager, Reagan Williams, said Wednesday he's not worried about outstanding absentees or a vote recount reversing the runoff outcome in Allen's favor.
"I don't think the numbers out there support that," Williams said.