ATLANTA - Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss handed the GOP a firewall against Democrats eager to flex their newfound political muscle in Washington, winning a bruising runoff battle Tuesday night that had captured the national limelight.
Chambliss' victory thwarted Democrats' hopes of winning a 60 seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. It came after a bitter month long runoff against Democrat Jim Martin that drew political luminaries from both parties to the state and flooded the airwaves with fresh attack ads weeks after campaigns elsewhere had ended.
Minnesota - where a recount is under way - now remains the only unresolved Senate contest in the country. But the stakes there are significantly lower now that Georgia has put a 60-seat Democratic supermajority out of reach.
With 70 percent of the precincts reporting, Chambliss captured 60 percent to Martin's 40 percent. Chambliss' win is a rare bright spot for Republicans in a year where they lost the White House as well as seats in the House and the Senate.
'It's been a hard and tough four weeks,' Chambliss said at a victory party in Cobb County. 'We had a hardcore campaign on both sides and while things look good right now, we're going to continue to follow the returns as they come in.'
Chambliss' mantra on the runoff campaign trail was simple: His re-election was critical to prevent Democrats in Washington from having a blank check. Chambliss, 65, had angered some conservatives with his vote for the $700 billion bailout of the financial services industry and his early support in 2007 for the guest worker provision in President Bush's immigration bill. But fearful of unchecked Democratic dominance, some came back into the GOP fold Tuesday
Martin made the economy the centerpiece of his bid, casting himself as a champion for the neglected middle class. He also linked himself at every opportunity to Barack Obama and his message of change. The Democratic president elect was a no show on the campaign trail in Georgia but did record a radio ad and automated phone calls for Martin.