ATLANTA -- His voice sounding dry and hoarse, former president Bill Clinton ridiculed Georgia Republican Senate candidate David Perdue during a brief stop at what many consider to be the dining room of the civil rights movement.

Clinton rallied with supporters of Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn and State Sen. Jason Carter, who is hoping to unseat Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday. Democrats have turned their attention to Georgia in recent weeks, believing that Nunn and Carter could deliver the party two of a dwindling number of opportunities to make gains this year.

Perdue and Nunn are locked in what most recent polls show is a two- or three-point contest. But neither candidates appears to be earning more than 50 percent support, meaning that the election might stretch on until a runoff on Jan. 6. If Carter failed to unseat Deal, they will face a Dec. 2 runoff. The candidates and several groups supporting them have been airing a barrage of television and radio ads in the campaign's final days in hopes of avoiding a prolonged election.

In a sign of how much importance the Senate race now holds for national Democrats, Guy Cecil, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, traveled to Atlanta Friday and was in the crowd to watch Clinton and Nunn.

Both spoke on a makeshift stage under a painting of Martin Luther King Jr. Clinton blasted Perdue for flooding Georgia's airwaves with negative ads that he said are distracting voters from their real issues of concern.

"The political rhetoric here is poisonous, and if you think about it, it's kind of a clever scam," he said. "Her opponent is saying, 'Look, I don't want to talk about universal Pre-K, because I'm not for it and she is. ... I sure don't want to talk about outsourcing jobs anymore, I tried that. I'd rather not talk about equal pay for equal work. ... So let's just put the president on the ballot.'"

"We've seen this movie a thousand times before, those of us who are over a certain age," Clinton added later. "And you just can't let it be about this."

Clinton said Nunn's campaign has been inspiring to watch. "One guy wants you to cast a protest vote. She wants you to cast a progress vote," he told the crowd. "One guy want you to vote in anger, she wants you to vote on the promise of your future."

Nunn spoke before Clinton and also faulted Perdue for focusing on "prosecuting the president and the other party." During her trips around the state, Nunn said that her interactions with voters suggest they don't like his strategy.

"None of them has said it's about sending more prosecutors to Washington. They said it's about sending problem solvers to Washington," she said.

The midday rally was held at Paschal's Restaurant, a city institution where leading entertainment, business and civil rights leaders have long gathered to dine and plot strategy. It's located just south of downtown near the Georgia Dome and a massive construction site that will eventually be home to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

Among the roughly 200 people in attendance were top members of the Georgia Democratic political establishment: Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Also spotted among the dignitaries was former District Mayor Marion Barry.

After the event Barry told The Washington Post that he was visiting Atlanta for a magazine interview, learned about the event last night and decided to stay to see it.

Atlanta's current mayor, Kasim Reed, whipped up the crowd before Carter, Nunn and Clinton took the stage by imploring Democrats to turn out as many friends and neighbors as possible.

"No runoffs in Georgia!" he shouted.

"No runoffs in Georgia!" the crowd yelled back.

An older woman in the room screamed out: "Vote the ballot down the line every time!"

"I like that," Reed said. "Let's say it again."

"Vote the ballot down the line every time!" they all chanted.

Clinton's visit coincided with the final day of early voting in Georgia. More than 709,700 Georgians had voted early as of Thursday, according to state officials. Both parties are claiming a strong turnout among supporters and expect a big push in the final day.

DuBose Porter, chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party, said that having Clinton visit Atlanta in the final days of the campaign was a tribute to the region that likely would give his party an extra boost, especially since Nunn and Carter have been able to keep pace with their GOP opponents, according to recent polls.

"Atlanta in the past has been a great example of a new South. We’ve lost that with the last few governors," he said. "What Michelle and Jason offer is being back to that state that sets the pace for the southeast and the country again."

"You have these young, smart, visionary candidates who give you hope again," he added. "And it’s inspiring. And we haven’t had that in a long time."