Before the night was over, he had gotten the news he had been waiting for -- Republican voters across the state had made him their nomination for state school superintendent. But it was several hours after the polls closed at 7 p.m. before victory for Bartow County Schools' director of Secondary Curriculum was assured.
"As we watched the results coming in, the rural counties were coming in first -- we knew that we probably would not do as well in those counties just because we had not focused a lot of attention there initially because we were in a real time crunch. We didn't get into the race until February, and we had to focus our attention, as we couldn't get everywhere," Barge said. "When the metro Atlanta counties started rolling in, the margin started shrinking between the two of us.
The incoming results eventually pushed the needle from opponent Richards Woods' side into Barge's favor, and by about 10:45 p.m., media outlets had declared Barge the winner.
"It was a good race. Richard's a great opponent," he said. "We got along great ... he and I didn't have any issues with each other, and we talked quite frequently on the trail. I think it boiled down to the experience, especially in the larger, metro Atlanta counties. I think the folks probably felt more comfortable with the fact that I had served in leadership roles in suburban schools and urban schools and rural schools."
Barge, a resident of Floyd County, began his education career in Bartow County as an English teacher at Cass High School from August 1991 to September 1992. He later moved onto assistant principal positions in Haralson County and Rome City Schools before becoming principal of Chestatee High School, a position he held from July 2001 to June 2004.
From July 2004 to June 2005, he served as the state director of Career, Technical and Agriculture Education for the Georgia Department of Education. Prior to coming to Bartow County Schools, he was assistant principal of Pepperell High School and system director for High Schools That Work in Floyd County Schools. He assumed his current role in Bartow County Schools' central office in July 2006.
Locally, just more than 75 percent of Bartow voters supported Barge, as he drew 3,917 local ballots to Woods' 1,300.
"That's awesome. I'm just very grateful for the show of support from Bartow County. It's a great bunch of folks that I work with, and it's a great school system," Barge said.
With only some provisional ballots remaining across the state Wednesday, 224,623 votes had been tallied for Barge, giving him 51.9 percent to Richard Woods' 208,592 ballots, or 48.1 percent. Only the race for the Democratic nomination for labor commissioner was a closer state contest.
In that race, Darryl Hicks' 166,456 votes gave him 50.1 percent to longtime state lawmaker Terry Coleman's 49.9 percent with 165,973 ballots -- a difference of less than 500 votes. Since the margin is less than 1 percent, Coleman is allowed to petition for a recount.
The winning Democrat will face Republican Rep. Mark Butler in the general election. Democrats have held the office of labor commissioner since it was created in 1938.
Though he now has to look at the bigger task of courting voters from both sides of the political spectrum before November's general election, Barge said he currently intends to remain on the job in Bartow.
"We're going to have to regroup and think and strategize. At least for the next little while, I will still do what I'm doing with Bartow County," he said. "It's going to be a couple weeks before we really know what's going to happen."
Barge's plan to stay on with the district has his boss' blessing.
"I'd love to call him boss," said Bartow County Schools Superintendent John Harper. "I've gotten to know John very well, and he's a very dedicated educator. I'd be extremely excited about him leading the school systems in the state of Georgia as the state superintendent.
"I think he's got a good handle on what our problems are in the state of Georgia and what he can do to help fix that," he added. "I think he would work more closely with school superintendents than we've seen."
Harper said Barge has done a "super job" as the system's secondary curriculum director, adding that he has seen no problems with his job performance amid his political campaign.
"He came to me when he had some thoughts about running and discussed it with me. He made sure I discussed it with the school board, and he got a thumbs up from the board and myself," Harper said. "We've been very direct in our contact of him not shirking his responsibilities as our director, and he's done very well there -- he's done a lot of work on the weekends, and he's taken some vacation time, but he's stayed on the clock when he should be on the clock, and that's just a part of what you have to appreciate about John. If he tells you he's going to do something, he's going to do it."
Barge in November will face former Atlanta Board of Education president Joe Martin, who earned the Democratic nomination for the statewide office in a three-way race. Wednesday's numbers had Martin with 54.9 percent of the vote. Former Georgia State University administrator Beth Farokhi of Marietta and high school teacher Brian Westlake of Decatur had 27.4 and 17.8 percent of the vote, respectively.
The two advancing candidates are aiming to succeed interim Superintendent Brad Bryant, who was appointed this year to serve the remainder of Kathy Cox's unexpired term. Bryant had launched an attempt to be placed on the ballot as an independent candidate, but he abandoned it when he could not get enough voter signatures.
Cox resigned in May to become chief executive officer of the U.S. Education Delivery Institute, a new Washington-based group aimed at assisting states in reaching "Race for the Top" goals. Her resignation came after she qualified in April to seek a third term as superintendent.
-- Some information from the Associated Press was used in this report.