>>RELATED: Georgia's election problems blasted as November vote looms
>>PHOTOS: Georgia voters struggle with long lines, new equipment
Ballot returns showed Ossoff inching above the majority-vote mark he needs to avoid an August runoff for the right to challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a first-term Republican and former Fortune 500 chief executive. His two top rivals said the race is not yet over.
Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who had a narrow lead in the race for second place and a spot in a potential runoff, sent a press release trumpeting a head-to-head matchup between a “proven leader and a failed repeat candidate who can’t break 50%.”
“Now that most (votes) have been counted, it appears that for the third time in his political career, Jon Ossoff has failed to break the 50% needed,” Tomlinson said in a statement, referring to Ossoff’s defeat in the 2017 special election for a suburban congressional seat to Republican Karen Handel.
“Voters in Georgia know we need a strong candidate to take on David Perdue, and even though Jon is universally known, a majority of voters have rejected him again,” she said.
It was an unusually strong rebuke for a candidate who logged about 15% of the vote and was defeated by Ossoff in every part of the state except the region surrounding her Columbus base.
It was also a reminder of how scathing a runoff could become if Ossoff can’t win the race outright.
Tomlinson has been unsparing in her criticism of the 33-year-old former congressional candidate, questioning his level of experience as she contends she’s the only Democrat in the race who can defeat Perdue. He’s largely ignored her broadsides, focusing his fire on Perdue and the White House.
Runoffs in Georgia are famously unpredictable. Republican Brian Kemp finished a distant second to Casey Cagle in the 2018 GOP primary for governor, but Kemp routed Cagle nine weeks later in a runoff with the endorsement of President Donald Trump and the help of a secretly recorded conversation.
A third contender in the Democratic race, executive Sarah Riggs Amico, was also within reach of the second spot in a prospective runoff. Without mentioning Tomlinson by name, she said it’s a “slap in the face” for a candidate to claim victory based on partial results.
“Candidates for elected office awaiting results should be more invested in protecting voters’ rights than advancing their political careers,” Amico said.
Each also offered biting criticism for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top elections official, after a vote marred by hours-long lines, faulty equipment, missing absentee ballots and other problems at the polls.
Perdue echoed those critics by labeling the election a “meltdown,” though he assigned blame to local elected officials in heavily Democratic DeKalb and Fulton counties. He told the Salem Radio Network that local election boards are “perpetrating suppression either through incompetence or malfeasance.”