Barnes has 41.1 percent of the vote, compared to 54.9 percent for Republican former Congressman Nathan Deal and 4.0 percent for Libertarian John Monds, according to unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State.
Please return to the this story throughout the night for updates as results come in.
No gay rights groups issued endorsements in the race, although statewide LGBT political group Georgia Equality launched a “No Deal” campaign against the Republican.
As a member of the U.S. House, Deal consistently received scores of zero on a congressional scorecard on LGBT issues compiled by the Human Rights Campaign. During the primary, he ran one of the most anti-gay campaigns in recent Georgia history, including attacking an opponent for allegedly supporting YouthPride, which provides support to LGBT young people.
Monds, the Libertarian, supports gay marriage and appeared in last month’s Atlanta Pride parade.
Barnes was elected Georgia governor in 1998, but lost his bid for a second term to Republican Sonny Perdue in 2002. During his first term, Barnes was the first sitting governor to address a gay rights group, appointed several openly gay people to state boards and commissions, and signed a hate crimes bill into law, although it did not include specific categories and was later struck down as too vague.
The Democratic Party of Georgia reached out to gay voters in the waning days of this fall’s campaign, including holding a get out the vote event at the gay bar Amsterdam Atlanta and hosting a gay fundraiser attended by Barnes, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michael Thurmond, and Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Carol Porter.
If given a second chance as Georgia’s governor, Barnes pledged that he would back a gay-inclusive hate crimes law and oppose discrimination on any basis, including sexual orientation.
“The way that I have always stated these issues is that there shouldn’t be discrimination against anyone. I believe that was shown while I was governor. I did not ask anyone whether they were gay or straight, I chose the best person and some of those happened to be gay. So I intend to do the same thing,” Barnes said during an interview Oct. 25 at the fundraiser organized by the Democratic Party of Georgia’s new LGBT caucus.
Asked if Georgia should have a state employment non-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation along with other protected categories, Barnes declined to state his position on an issue he considers impossible to pass.
“I think that you will never get that passed in Georgia right now so there is no use in burning a bridge before you even get there. I think what we have to do is concentrate on what is accomplishable and that is to encourage folks not to be discriminatory,” Barnes said.
“I was a big advocate as you recall of the hate crimes statute that included any kind of gender orientation discrimination. It was difficult, but we got it passed, and I think those are accomplishable deals,” he said.
Asked about the 2004 state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage, Barnes said he did not oppose the measure.
“I voted when I was in the General Assembly that a marriage was between a man and a wife. I was not in the legislature in 2004 and neither was I governor, but I probably would have supported it in all candor,” he said.
The former governor cited economic concerns when asked if Georgia should offer domestic partner benefits to state employees.
“You know, the state health benefits plan is in such a hole that before I could commit to that I would want to see what the financial impact was,” he said.