Republicans win crucial Georgia Senate seat

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss easily won a run-off election in Georgia on Tuesday, denying Democrats the chance for a 60-seat “super majority” in the Senate that would have enabled them to pass legislation virtually at will.

Chambliss, an incumbent who first won his U.S. Senate seat in 2002, defeated Democrat Jim Martin for the seat in a race that gained national significance because Democrats and their independent allies held 58 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate after the November 4 election.

One seat in Minnesota, subject to a recount because the vote count was so close, remains undecided.

A 60-seat majority would have enabled Democrats to overcome procedural hurdles set up by Republicans, who are the minority in the Senate. Such a majority would have been particularly potent with a Democratic president, Barack Obama, moving into the White House on January 20.

“You have delivered tonight a strong message to the world that conservative Georgia values matter,” Chambliss, 65, told cheering supporters in his victory speech.

Martin, a 63-year-old former state legislator, thanked his supporters and said the defeat was “a sad moment.”

With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Chambliss had won 57.5 percent of the vote and Martin 42.5 percent, according to data from the Georgia secretary of state’s website.

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Chambliss gained more votes than Martin on November 4, but fell short of the 50 percent-plus majority required by Georgia law. His victory surprised few in Georgia, a southern state in the most conservative part of the country that has a Republican governor and backed Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain over Obama in the presidential election.

Chambliss thanked his supporters, including volunteers from 43 states who came to Georgia to help his campaign.

He made it clear during his campaign that he would not hesitate to oppose Democratic proposals.

“When President Obama is right, when he proposes initiatives that are good for Georgia, I look forward to working with him,” Chambliss told WAGA-TV, the Atlanta Fox News affiliate, as the returns came in. “But when he proposes things that are not in the best interest of Georgians, then I’m not going to be with him.”

Both candidates attracted national political figures in campaigning for the run-off. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Martin and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was McCain’s vice presidential candidate, held rallies for Chambliss.

Democrats in November benefited from heavy black support of Obama, who will be the first black president.

But blacks made up only 22 percent of those casting early ballots in the run-off, according to figures released by the secretary of state’s office, far short of the 35 percent they comprised in the November election.

Editing by Mohammad Zargham