Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Perdue, Schrenko Could Face Runoff Democrats Skew Voting

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Perdue, Schrenko Could Face Runoff Democrats Skew Voting

Article excerpt

Byline: Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- As the early returns rolled in for the Republican gubernatorial candidates, it looked like the runoff in three weeks will pair a former Democratic state legislator with an outspoken woman school superintendent.

Former Cobb County Commission chairman Bill Byrne, former state Sen. Sonny Perdue and state schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko were in a virtual dead heat in the GOP contest, based on polls leading up to the vote. And the first 8 percent of returns showed Perdue pulling ahead with 49 percent of the vote to Schrenko's 29 percent, followed by Byrne with 22 percent.

"We feel real good about things so far,'' said Richard Leonard, Schrenko's campaign manager.

Leonard said his staff had heard reports of heavy Democratic turnout in middle Georgia, near Perdue's home in Bonaire, to vote in a hotly contested race for Congress.

"We had been afraid a lot of Democrats [in middle Georgia] were going to cross over to vote for Sonny,'' Leonard said.

He also said Democrats were reportedly asking for Republican ballots in parts of Cobb County to vote against Byrne, who was commission chairman there for nearly 12 years.

Cobb is the state's third-largest county.

Perdue's staffers said they weren't concerned with those reports.

"We haven't heard that,'' said Dan McLagan, Perdue's press secretary, referring to a heavier-than-normal Democratic vote in middle Georgia. "A lot of people there are turning out for Sonny.''

McLagan said he was encouraged by heavy turnout in the counties north of Atlanta where Republican congressmen Bob Barr and John Linder are facing off. But by late yesterday afternoon, he said predictions were still hard to make.

"Sonny's very encouraged," McLagan said. "But this is when all the spin and the predictions and the polls get shown up."

If none of the three earns more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a three-week runoff between the top two vote-getters.

Although Byrne and Schrenko were the first to declare their candidacies, Perdue's campaign quickly emerged as the favorite among leaders in the state Republican Party.

The former state senator garnered endorsements from virtually every major newspaper in the state and the backing of most high-ranking Republican officials.

But despite the support, and a campaign war chest hundreds of thousands of dollars deeper than Schrenko's or Byrne's, most polls showed Perdue trailing Schrenko for most of the campaign -- thanks largely to the name recognition she built during eight years as Georgia's top education official.

But Perdue was able to afford the most advertising, including a TV blitz in the race's final days, and the most recent polls showed a virtual dead heat, with as many as a third of likely voters still undecided. …

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