Reflecting the broader national backlash against the Democratic Party this election season, voters denied U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon a fifth term in office Tuesday, choosing Republican Austin Scott as his replacement.
With 78 percent of precincts reporting, Scott led Marshall 52.5-47.5 percent in a bruising battle for Georgia's 8th Congressional District seat.
Scott, the current state representative for Tift and Turner counties, celebrated his victory Tuesday night at the Hilton Garden Inn in Tifton.
He said his campaign won on its own merits, not because of the national picture."We won this race because we had the better campaign team. We worked harder than they did," Scott said.
Scott said his supporters had placed about 250,000 telephone calls.
"At the end of April, he was unbeatable. And tonight, tonight, Georgians have spoken," Scott said.
Meanwhile, a crowd of about 100 Marshall supporters and campaign workers at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon watched with disappointment as Marshall trailed Scott by 8 to 10 percentage points for much of the night.
Marshall said around 10:15 p.m. that it was "hard to see a clear path to victory," but he refused to comment on the results specifically until he confirmed Scott's win. He blamed Scott's lead on Republican attacks against his party affiliation.
"It's a national tide, and there's not much I could do. We've done well, and I've had a good team. I don't toe the party line, but many people haven't been able to realize that," Marshall said.
Marshall conceded to Scott late Tuesday.
Rusty Adams of Warner Robins was one of the Marshall supporters who showed up to support the campaign Tuesday night. He expressed his disappointment with Marshall's loss.
"I can't believe it. I'm gonna have to live with it, though," Adams said.
Marshall drew criticism from the Scott campaign for some of his votes, and ads on Scott's behalf tied Marshall to Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House. Marshall launched his own campaign ads to distance himself from Pelosi.
But those efforts didn't carry the day for Marshall. He needed critical support from swing voters such as Christine Gausche of Bonaire, wife of a retired U.S. Air Force officer. Gausche backed Marshall in 2008 — but shifted her support to the Republicans this year.
"I think he's done some good things, but he's part of a larger group that hasn't done such good things," Gausche said.
Marshall had trailed Scott in several recent polls, with some of them giving Scott an 8-point lead over the incumbent Democrat.
Marshall, who dropped out of Princeton University to fight in Vietnam, is a former Macon mayor and faculty member of Mercer University's law school.
Scott appeared to have won in at least 16 of 21 counties in the district. Marshall won in Bibb County by a wide margin, but the vote was nearly even in Houston County, with votes tilting slightly in Scott's favor.
Bibb and Houston counties represent much of the 8th District's population and voters, many of whom have ties to Robins Air Force Base. Late Tuesday, many of the votes in Twiggs and Houston counties had not been tallied.
House Republican Conference Secretary John Carter, a key member of the Republican Steering Committee that assigns House members to committees, said in a statement Tuesday night that he is excited over Scott's election, and he would push the Steering Committee to assign Scott to committees most important to Georgia.
"Austin Scott has the common sense conservative fiscal values and life experience that are essential to winning a seat on critical committees," Carter said.
"I am committed to use my influence in Republican leadership and on the Steering Committee to push Congressman-elect Scott for the seats that will do his district, Georgia, and the nation the most good."
Scott told The Telegraph that voters wanted changes. And if the new Republican majority in the House doesn't do the right thing, voters will vote for more changes in two years.
"It's all about work now — jobs and the economy," Scott said.
Scott's mother, Becky, kept dancing with joy as she talked with a reporter. She said she knew the reason her son won, and thought it would translate well into Congress: "A lot of hard work."