ALBANY, Ga. -- With early returns showing Republican challenger Karen Kemp with a surprising lead in Baker County, incumbent Democratic State House District 150 Rep. Winfred Dukes waited confidently for votes in his home Dougherty County base to register.
And as the votes trickled in, Dukes quickly erased Kemp's advantage and took what appeared to be a commanding lead in his quest to return to the House for a 15th year.
With two-thirds of the Dougherty County precincts yet to be reported by press time, Dukes had built a commanding 9,022-5035 lead in the county, which added to Duke's slim 621-613 advantage in Baker County.
Dukes had not yet declared victory Tuesday as the Dougherty votes were slowly being reported, but he chatted confidently with supporters at his downtown Albany campaign headquarters.
"The greatest thing about this election has been the acknowledgment by the people in this district of their appreciation for the job I've done in office," Dukes said. "They've shown me by their continued support that they believe that I am in Atlanta serving their best interest."
Dukes even offered words of praise for his challenger.
"No matter the eventual outcome of this race, I thank Karen for offering for this office," he said. "It takes a lot to offer for public service, and that's what this is all about: serving the public."
Kemp, too, appeared calm as she awaited returns with her family and supporters at a west Albany restaurant.
"I have not been obsessing about the outcome; I haven't been glued to the computer checking the vote totals," she said. "It's just been such a humbling experience to talk with the people of this district and find them willing to invest their time and money in our campaign.
"No matter what the final outcome of this race is, I've developed friendships that will extend beyond this election. And I think opportunities are going to come my way because of this."
Dukes, who will apparently return to Atlanta for an eighth term, urged his supporters to get out the vote in the district as Tuesday's election approached.
"Our goal was to get a 60 percent turnout," Dukes said. "We figured if we could get close to that -- and we're hearing that there was a 60 percent turnout in Baker County and around a 50 percent turnout in Dougherty County -- we'd be OK.
"The first time that I ran for office, I was trying to convince people to give me an opportunity based upon expectations that I would do what I said. This time, I was able to run on my proven record."
Kemp, a political newcomer who is executive director of a family/child abuse support center, said she will be a fixture around the Golden Dome no matter the outcome of Tuesday's vote.
"I'm going to continue doing what I do at the Lily Pad, which is advocating for the rights of victims in our region," she said. "And I will spend a lot of time in Atlanta, looking for funding -- especially for prevention, which is so important -- whether I'm in the House or not.
"I told (Kemp's husband) Scott and the girls before we left to come up here that there's been a lot of joy in this journey. I've met a lot of wonderful people who've been willing to invite me into their homes so that they could share their dreams with me. They wanted to be a part of this process, and to share that with them was a very humbling experience."
Dukes' 2,206-922 lead gave him 70 percent of the vote that had been counted by press time.