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Ossoff just short of 50% threshold for US Senate primary win

ATLANTA (AP) — A media executive backed by civil rights icon John Lewis is just short of the majority he needs to avoid a runoff election in Georgia’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. It was still too early to call the race Wednesday.

Jon Ossoff was far ahead of two other candidates in his bid to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue in November. As of 12 p.m. Wednesday, he had just shy of 49% of the counted vote, trailed by Teresa Tomlinson and Sarah Riggs Amico. Tomlinson and Amico were separated by less than 2 percentage points in the race for the second spot in a potential runoff.

Counties across Georgia were in the process Wednesday of assessing what still remains to be counted. An analysis by The Associated Press based on absentee ballots requested and returned suggests there could be well over 100,000 votes remaining to be counted in the Atlanta area alone.

Candidates in Georgia must win more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. On election day Tuesday, a lack of poll workers, trouble with new voting equipment, coronavirus restrictions and high turnout contributed to long lines, with 20 of Georgia’s 159 counties having to extend voting hours for at least one precinct.

“The most important thing, and I want to make this extremely clear, is that every vote must be counted,” including absentee and provisional ballots, Ossoff said in a call with reporters Wednesday. Later, commenting about a possible runoff or win in the primary, he added, “It’s far too early to talk about outcomes.”

Ossoff called the problems that voters faced at the polls “an outrage” and “an affront to our constitutional principles.” The election had been previously postponed and campaigns were forced almost entirely online because of the coronavirus. The final days also saw widespread protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Criticism of President Donald Trump’s response on both fronts has added fuel to Democrats' ambitions of winning in Georgia, where the party is increasingly making gains even though Republicans still dominate in statewide elections.

Perdue, a close Trump ally seeking a second term in November as Republicans look to hold the White House and Senate majority, drew no GOP primary opposition. Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia is also defending the seat she was recently appointed to in a separate race that won’t be filtered by primaries.

Ossoff entered the Senate race in September with the endorsement of Lewis, as well as some built-in name recognition from his highly publicized 2017 special election loss to Republican Karen Handel for an Atlanta-area U.S. House seat. The young media executive has led in fundraising and has made fighting inequality and corruption a core part of his message.

Tomlinson, who was the first woman elected mayor of Columbus in 2010, has racked up a slate of endorsements of her own, including civil rights leader and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. She touts her experience in office, saying she’s “the only one in this race who has ever won an election and governed."

Amico previously served as an executive in her family's car-hauling company and is best known for a 2018 bid for lieutenant governor, which she lost to Republican Geoff Duncan. Georgia postponed primary elections twice because of the pandemic. Presidential primaries scheduled for March 24 were first moved to May 19, when primaries in other 2020 races, including the Senate race, were set to be held. As infections and deaths mounted, election day was pushed back again to Tuesday.

Walter Jones, a spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said Wednesday that more than 1 million mail ballots had already been received statewide by Monday. That’s a huge increase in the number of paper ballots that counties have traditionally had to process in past elections.

— The paragraph with Ossoff’s quote has been edited for chronological clarity.

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