These factors could combine to send Georgia's hotly contested race for governor into a Nov. 30 runoff. The scenario is gaining currency in state political circles in a year in which some voters seem unsatisfied with their choices for the state's top spot.
Roy Barnes is a Democrat running against a stiff Republican headwind and lingering resentment over his single term in the Governor's Mansion. Republican Nathan Deal has been hammered over financial troubles and alleged ethics problems that have left questions about how much he will be able to tap into Republican excitement this election year.
If the race is tight, Libertarian John Monds could play spoiler and keep both candidates below the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win outright. In 2008, Libertarian Allen Buckley needed just 3.4 percent of the vote - or 127,923 of the 3.75 million ballots cast - to send Georgia's U.S. Senate race into extra innings.
A runoff would mean four more weeks of grueling campaigning in a race already rife with hostility. Money from outside groups would almost certainly pour into Georgia with Democrats hungry to pick up a seat in a reliably red state and Republicans intent on denying them bragging rights.
"Anytime you have three people in the race it's possible," Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Everhart said. "But we're hoping and praying it doesn't happen."
Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia, said to his knowledge a Democrat has never won a statewide general election runoff in Georgia. Democrats ruled state politics for generations, he said, so Republican candidates never got close enough to force a runoff. Since Republicans have gained control of the state they've prevailed in runoffs, he said.
"So, a runoff would almost certainly favor Nathan Deal," Bullock said. "Especially this year where the national climate leans so heavily Republican."
Eric Tannenblatt, a Republican fundraiser who ran Paul Coverdell's successful U.S. Senate runoff in 1992, said he still expects Deal will win outright on Nov. 2.
"There is just more Republican enthusiasm this year," he said. "People are upset about Washington and that will bleed over into Georgia."
But he said that if a runoff took place both campaigns would go into overdrive getting their base back to the polls. Runoffs, he said, are not about reaching out to new voters but getting those motivated supporters back out in a low-turnout contest.
Already voters in Georgia seem less than excited about their options in the gubernatorial race. Some feel Barnes had his chance when he served one term as governor before being ousted by Republican Sonny Perdue in 2002. Others feel Deal, who served in Congress from 1993 until last March, has been tainted by a congressional ethics probe.
Ronald Ketchum, a 70-year-old retiree in Albany, said it boils down to the lesser of two evils.
"You've got one who's a 'has been' who keeps apologizing," Ketchum said of Barnes.
"And the other got caught with his hand in the cookie jar," he said of Deal, who resigned from Congress amid an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into his salvage business's state contracts. Deal has denied doing anything wrong.
For his part, Ketchum said he hadn't decided who to vote for or even whether he will cast a ballot.
"I don't much like either of them," Ketchum said.
Others said they just aren't paying attention or are turned off by the barrage of attacks ads filling the airwaves.
"It's all so very negative," said Cheryl Jackson, who works at the Dougherty County Library. "I can't even hear what they're saying."
Republican-leaning voters who don't see Barnes as an option could either stay home or cast a vote for the Libertarian.
Runoffs are notoriously nasty and the brutal tone of the gubernatorial race would likely intensify. Already, Barnes has accused Deal of working to weaken the state's rape shield law and of being ethically bankrupt.
Republicans have assailed Barnes for what they describe as his iron-fisted rule of the state and a record as a greedy trial lawyer.
Georgia's 2008 U.S. Senate runoff drew political heavy hitters from Sarah Palin to Bill Clinton to the state. Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who fell just shy of an election-night victory in a three-way contest that year, won in a runoff that lacked the heavy Democratic turnout that elected Obama.
The state could again become a popular stop in 2010 as the candidates seek to whip up enthusiasm and remind voters that the race isn't over yet.
Both gubernatorial campaigns professed confidence they would win on Nov. 2.
Barnes spokesman Emil Runge said the former governor is "gathering momentum from across Georgia." Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said he is confident that undecided voters will break for the Republican to give Deal "a comfortable majority."