Jim Folsom Jr., heir to one of Alabama's most famous political names, defeated incumbent U.S. Sen. Donald Stewart tonight in a tight Democratic primary runoff.
With 99 percent of the total reported, Folsom had 202,119 votes, or 51 percent, to Stewart's 195,975 votes, or 49 percent.
Turnout was light as rainy weather dampened much of the state.
The winner faces Republican nominee Jeremiah Denton on Nov 4.
In the only other congressional race, a Republican runoff in the 7th District, James Bacon was an easy winner over Robert Shore and will face incumbent Democratic Rep. Richard Shelby in November.
Stewart, 40, a former attorney and two-term state legislator from Anniston, went to the Senate in 1978 after a special election to fill the seat of the late James B. Allen, an ardent conservative Democrat.
Seeking a full six-year term, Stewart almost won the nomination outright in the Sept. 2 primary. But Folsom, a 31-year-old Public Service Commission member who says he is more conservative than Stewart, ran a surprisingly strong second and forced the runoff.
Folsom is the son of a legendary polical figure, two-term Gov. James Folsom, a rural populist known as "Big Jim" and Kissin' Jim" in the 1940s and '50s.
Different in style and politics from his gregarious father, Folsom sought to tap Alabama's conservative element by calling Stewart a liberal "puppet" of the "great Washington power structure."
Stewart, who depicted Folsom as an ineffective PSC member, was hampered in the primary campaign because of a federal investigation of his 1978 campaign finances. But during the runoff campaign the Justice Department announced it had found no wrongdoing.
Folsom ran strong throughout the state and overwhelmed Stewart in north Alabama where his famous father started his career.
Calling the victory "a very humbling experience," Folsom asked Democrats to close ranks for the general election.
Late tonight, Stewart did not concede but admitted the results did not look promising. "It's a close race and all the votes are not counted," he said.
The little-known Whig Party of Alabama nominated Republican Rep. John Buchanan in a last-ditch effort to return him to the seat he has held for 16 years. Buchanan said, "If I am certified on the ballot I will re-enter the race. It would be delightful to run."
Buchanan was defeated by insurance salesman Albert Lee Smith on Sept.