Talmadge's ethical issues made him uniquely vulnerable. Because Georgia was seen as a strongly Democratic state, five primary opponents declared their candidacies for the Democratic nomination. Strongest among these candidates was Lieutenant Governor Zell Miller. Miller launched his campaign with support from black voters, organized labor, and the liberal wing of the Georgia Democratic Party. He campaign against Talmadge on the argument that Talmadge had "disgraced" Georgia. Miller also attacked Talmadge's history as a segregationist and boasted of support from black leaders including Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson and State Senator Julian Bond.
In the six-man primary held August 5, Miller and Talmadge advanced to a run-off election. Talmadge won the run-off election with 58.6% of the vote.