SAVANNAH - The battle to choose a Republican challenger for Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow in the fall will require a recount of last week's GOP primary vote before moving on to a runoff between the top two finishers.
Republican candidate Wright McLeod asked for a recount Wednesday, a day after Georgia's secretary of state signed off on official election results that showed McLeod finishing just 584 votes behind runner-up Rick W. Allen. That result would advance Allen, not McLeod, to an Aug. 21 runoff with the primary candidate who finished in first place.
The margin was thin enough to guarantee McLeod, an Augusta attorney, a recount of the vote if he asked for it. The candidate sent a letter to Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Wednesday morning requesting a new tally "due to the close margin separating second and third places."
However, there's not much chance that recounting the votes will change the outcome. In an age of electronic voting, double-checking the vote count is much like punching the same numbers into a calculator a second time.
"They do have the privilege to ask for a recount, but we don't expect it to change anything," said Jared Thomas, spokesman for Kemp, who is Georgia's top elections official.
Thomas said recounting the votes was expected to take about a da, with results available by noon Thursday.
McLeod and Allen, who owns an Augusta construction company, were among four GOP candidates who ran in the July 31 primary in hopes of getting to challenge Barrow in the fall.
Whoever prevails will face state Rep. Lee Anderson in the runoff. Anderson, a Grovetown farmer, finished more than 5,000 votes ahead of Allen in the primary but fell far short of the majority he needed to win the nomination outright.
Allen's campaign did not have immediate comment on the recount filing. McLeod issued a statement to his supporters saying, in part: "Since last Tuesday, I have been overwhelmed by the encouragement that has resonated from supporters throughout the 12th District. Your message has been clear: Don't give up!"
Allen, meanwhile, moved forward as though his slot in the runoff was a sure bet. Two days after the primary, he poured $250,000 of his own money into his campaign account - bringing the businessman's total personal investment in the race to $540,000. Allen also began running new TV ads last week touting his business experience as making him the best man to fix America's economy.
Anderson has said he doesn't care whether Allen or McLeod faces him in the runoff, insisting he would keep his campaign focused on defeating Barrow in November. Since the runoff, he has been endorsed by former rival Maria Sheffield, a Dublin attorney who finished fourth in the primary.
"No matter what the outcome of the recount, we have heard you," McLeod said in his letter to supporters.
Republicans are anticipating their best chance in years at defeating Barrow, who is seeking a fifth term. Last year, the GOP-led state Legislature redrew the congressman's district to remove Savannah, Barrow's political base and his home. Barrow has since moved to Augusta and has about $1.3 million in the bank to defend his seat in what's become a more rural, conservative-leaning district.
The winner of the GOP runoff will benefit from a sizable investment by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has reserved more than $900,000 worth of airtime for TV ads in the district.
That helps explain why the four Republicans who sought the seat each invested six-figure sums of their own money. Anderson loaned his campaign $178,000 for the primary.
The Statesboro Herald staff contributed to this report.