ATLANTA — REPUBLICAN Paul Coverdell toppled United States Sen. Wyche Fowler (D) in a tight Georgia runoff election, dashing Democratic hopes of increasing the party's majority in the Senate.
Voters rejected a personal plea by President-elect Clinton. The day before Tuesday's runoff, Mr. Clinton said he needed Mr. Fowler to help "break this gridlock in Washington."
With all precincts reporting, Mr. Coverdell had 633,182 votes or 51 percent and Fowler had 618,190 votes or 49 percent.
James Carville, an architect of Clinton's successful presidential campaign, said in Washington that the president-elect had not gambled away any prestige by getting involved.
"I think he felt like the risk was to do nothing," Mr. Carville said.
Democrats now can only hope to maintain the party's 57 to 43 margin in the Senate. On Dec. 4, North Dakota will elect a successor to Democratic Sen. Quentin Burdick, who died in September, and Democrat Kent Conrad is heavily favored.
Coverdell is only the second Republican since Reconstruction elected to the Senate from Georgia. The other, Mack Mattingly, was defeated in 1986 by Fowler after a single term.
Coverdell, who was Peace Corps director from 1989 to 1991, attributed his come-from-behind victory to supporters "who stepped forward in this election season and said `we want change, we want common sense, we want someone in Washington who came from the workplace.' "
Emory University political scientist Merle Black said Coverdell succeeded because his unrelenting attack ads tapped into voter dissatisfaction with incumbents.