Republican runoff for governor too close to call

ATLANTA -- The bitter, Republican runoff for Georgia governor between former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal and ex-Secretary of State Karen Handel was too close to call Tuesday night.

In unofficial returns, the candidates each claimed 50 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Just over 2,700 votes separated the two with an unknown number of provisional ballots as well as overseas and military ballots yet to be counted.

Under Georgia law, the runner-up can request a recount if the margin is less than one percent of the total vote.

The three-week runoff between Deal and Handel has featured brutal attack ads, dueling endorsements from Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich and tough talk on the campaign trail.

The winner will face Democrat Roy Barnes in November.

Barnes -- who already began running his first ad of the general election even as voters were at the polls selecting his opponent -- said Tuesday night that he will run his own race regardless of the outcome of the Republican contest.

''I'm going to be laying out the comparisons and contrasts in this race based on issues not personalities,'' Barnes said in a telephone interview.

Handel received the most votes in last month's primary, leading Deal by 11 percentage points in the seven-person race. Tuesday's narrow contest suggested Deal had moved to close that gap, drawing support from rural Georgia.

Deal, 67, and Handel, 48, entered the runoff with little money, but moved quickly to raise donations and keep supporters fired up. Both candidates wooed voters from south Georgia, which had largely backed other Republicans in the primary.

On the campaign trail, Deal cast Handel as too liberal and said her campaign lacked substance. He also suggested Handel's lack of a college degree sent the wrong message to Georgia students.

Meanwhile, Handel repeatedly assailed Deal's ethics and labeled him ''a corrupt relic of Washington.'' During a televised debate, Handel called on Deal to stop ''squealing'' about negative attacks and put on ''big boy pants.''