By Matthew Bigg

Democrat Cynthia McKinney, Georgia’s first African American congresswoman, lost her primary run-off race on Tuesday, paying a price for strident rhetoric and a failure to galvanize supporters.

Her opponent, Hank Johnson, won 59 percent of the vote in Georgia’s 4th Congressional District, according to Atlanta station WSB-TV’s Web site.

McKinney had been expected to cruise through the July primary but emerged only 3 percent ahead of Johnson, a lawyer and former county commissioner, and was forced into a run-off for a seat she has held since 2004.

In June, McKinney was forced to apologize on the floor of the House over an incident at the Capitol that drew rebukes from lawmakers of both parties, in which she poked a police officer who stopped her at a checkpoint after failing to recognize her.

The Justice Department declined to charge her over the incident, but Republicans seized on the opportunity to paint her as a loose cannon.

In a brief concession speech, McKinney said she wished the new district representative well, while Johnson told cheering supporters he would work to heal divisions caused during the campaign. Johnson will face Republican Catherine Davis in the November 7 election.

Senior Democratic leaders had declined to endorse McKinney’s re-election campaign, viewing her as a polarizing figure who could hurt party chances in November elections, commentator Earl Hutchinson told Reuters.

McKinney’s campaign slogan was "Backbone in politics" and she accused her opponent in a televised debate last week of taking money from Republicans eager to unseat her because of her principled stand on issues, not least her opposition to the war in Iraq, which she says is illegal.

McKinney, 51, was first elected to Congress in 1992 but lost her seat in a primary race in 2002 in part because of her suggestion that President Bush may have had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks.

She was reelected two years later.

© 2006 Reuters