1996 United States Senate election in Georgia
Cleland: 40–50% 50–60% 60–70% 70–80%
Millner: 40–50% 50–60% 60–70%
|Elections in Georgia|
The 1996 United States Senate election in Georgia was held on November 5, 1996. Incumbent Democratic United States Senator Sam Nunn decided to retire instead of seeking a fifth term. The Republican Party nominated Guy Millner, a multi-millionaire businessman who was also the unsuccessful candidate who ran against Zell Miller in the 1994 gubernatorial election. Millner emerged as the victor from a crowded 6-person primary in July 1996. Max Cleland, the Secretary of State of Georgia ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Libertarian Jack Cashin and Independent Arlene Rubinstein also entered the race, though neither one of them were "serious" candidates. Despite being held by Democrats since 1852, the election for this seat became tightly contested between Cleland and Millner. It was the closest race for that seat since at least 1852. Nonetheless, Cleland defeated Millner on November 5. He narrowly edged out a victory with 1,103,993 votes (48.87%) to Guy Millner's 1,073,969 votes (47.54%) – a margin of 1.33%. As of 2020, this is the last time the Democrats have won the Class 2 Senate Seat from Georgia.
The Class 2 United States Senate seat had been reliably Democratic, with a member of that party holding it since 1852. Additionally, no Republican had ever held the seat since it was established in 1789. In fact, during the previous election, Sam Nunn was unanimously re-elected and defeated Mike Hicks by an almost 60% margin in 1984. Republican Paul Coverdell narrowly unseated Democrat Wyche Fowler in Georgia's other United States Senate seat in 1992. On October 9, 1995, 4-term incumbent Class 2 Senator Sam Nunn announced his retirement. This left the seat open for the first time since 1972.
After the retirement of Sam Nunn, Democrats began seeking a successor for him. Eventually, Secretary of State of Georgia Max Cleland entered the race. Cleland was the only Democratic candidate to file for election, thus he became the nominee by default on July 9, 1996. During the primary, he received 517,697 votes – 100%.
With the retirement of San Nunn, Republicans also saw opportunity with an open Senate seat in Georgia. Six candidates filled to enter the Primary Election and become the Republican Nominee after July 9, 1996, they were:
- Paul Broun, candidate for Georgia's 3rd congressional district in 1990 and 1992
- Clint Day, Georgia Senate Senator since 1993
- Bruce Hatfield
- Johnny Isakson, Georgia State Senator and 1990 Republican gubernatorial nominee
- Guy Millner, multi-millionaire businessman and 1994 Republican gubernatorial nominee
- Dean Parkison, Republican candidate for United States Senate in 1978, 1980, 1986, and 1992
There were four candidates on the ballot for the United States Senator from Georgia election in 1996.
- Jack Cashin, owner of a restaurant chain and publisher of Dare magazine
- Arlene Rubinstein
After the Republican Primary, Guy Millner emerged as the nominee. Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, noted that defeated rival Johnny Isakson was more likely to win the moderate vote due to his pro-choice views on abortion. Several polls earlier that year showed Cleland defeating both Millner and Isakson. In contrast to Isakson's opinion, Guy Millner was opposed to abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Johnny Isakson was later elected United States Senator after Zell Miller retired from his seat in 2004. Opponent Max Cleland quickly labeled Millner as an extremist, saying that "I think people in this state want to elect a moderate ... not an extremist, not an ideologue, and not somebody hung up on some ideological agenda." In response, Millner began campaigning on other issues to capture more moderate voters.
On Election Day, Democratic nominee Max Cleland narrowly won against Republican Guy Millner. It was one of the closest United States Senate Elections in the history of Georgia. Cleland received 1,103,993 votes to Millner's 1,073,969 votes. Libertarian candidate Jack Cashin obtained 81,262 votes, while only 8 people voted for Independent Arlene Rubinstein.
Following the election, Max Cleland was sworn-in as a United States Senator on January 7, 1997. After one term, Max Cleland faced a tough re-election bid in 2002. However, this time he was defeated by Republican Saxby Chambliss. Cleland did not pursue public office after 2002, but campaigned for John Kerry in 2004 and was selected by President of the United States Barack Obama to serve on the American Battle Monuments Commission starting in 2009. The Republican candidate in 1996, Guy Millner, ran for Governor of Georgia again in 1998, but lost to Democrat Roy Barnes. Millner did not seek public office again after his defeat in 1998.
- "Nunn won't pursue another term in the Senate". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Knight Ridder. October 9, 1995. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
- "Millner Retools Campaign For Fall Battle With Cleland". Waycross Journal-Herald. Associated Press. August 7, 1996. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
- General Election Results - Clerk U.S. House