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, Max Cleland defeated Guy Millner on November 5. Max Cleland 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 a result, Max Cleland was sworn-in as a Class 2United States Senator from Georgia on January 7, 1997.
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 at 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, 5-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:
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.