ATLANTA – John McCain is returning to the campaign trail for the first time since losing the presidency, headlining a Republican rally for a Georgia senator locked in a runoff that could push the Democratic majority closer to 60 votes.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss failed to cross the 50 percent threshold and faces a Dec. 2 rematch with Democrat Jim Martin. Georgia's election results were certified Thursday and the final tallies show Chambliss falling just short, with 49.8 percent of the vote. Martin earned 46.8 percent and Libertarian Allen Buckley, also in the race, pulled 3.4 percent.
Unresolved are Senate races in Minnesota and Alaska. Sen. Norm Coleman leads in Minnesota in a race headed to a statewide recount. Democrat Mark Begich took an 814-vote lead against Sen. Ted Stevens as votes were still being counted in Alaska. Not matter what the outcome, Senate Democrats would have 55 seats with two independents who caucus with the party.
For McCain, the appearance marks a return to the political arena after losing to Democrat Barack Obama. In his first post-election interview on the "Tonight Show" earlier this week, McCain praised his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and did little to pass the blame for his resounding loss.
After revving up hundreds of GOP faithful at the Cobb Energy Center in Atlanta, McCain was being whisked off to a private fundraiser for Chambliss.
"John's concerned about the direction this country is going to go," Chambliss said of McCain.
Democrats greeted McCain's arrival in Georgia with an Internet spot reviving remarks the Arizona senator made in condemning a tough ad Chambliss used in his 2002 campaign against Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee wounded in Vietnam. The ad questioned Cleland's national security credentials and flashed a picture of Osama bin Laden.
"I've never seen anything like that ad," McCain, a Vietnam prisoner of war, said in 2003. "Putting pictures of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden next to a picture of a man who left three limbs on the battlefield, it's worse than disgraceful, it's reprehensible."
Martin suggested McCain's visit will have little impact.
"The issue is not between Jim Martin and John McCain, we're both Vietnam veterans that's not the issue," Martin told reporters. "The issue is Jim Martin vs Saxby Chambliss, Jim Martin's approach to the economy vs. Saxby economics that's got us in this terrible financial crisis."
Georgia's last Senate runoff was in 1992 when Democratic Sen. Wyche Fowler earned more votes on the general election but went on to lose to Republican Paul Coverdell in a runoff.
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