ATLANTA — Democrats are on the cusp of taking the Senate majority after Rev. Raphael Warnock won his special election runoff in Georgia Tuesday night, defeating GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler as Georgia’s other Republican senator remains locked in a too-close-to-call runoff.
Warnock is the first Black Democrat to win election to the Senate from a Southern state and will be just the 11th Black senator in history, prevailing in the most closely divided state of the 2020 election after hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in a divisive campaign.
But Democrats need to sweep both Georgia runoffs to take control of a 50-50 Senate once Vice President-elect Kamala Harris assumes her tiebreaking role later this month. The other race between Republican incumbent David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff remained too close to call early Wednesday morning, with Ossoff in the lead by just a few thousand votes.
Loeffler was appointed to the Senate a year ago to replace former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned due to health reasons. Warnock, the senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, will serve the remaining two years of that term but will have to run for reelection to a full term in 2022.
Republicans are seeking to preserve their foothold on power in Washington for the next two years after President Donald Trump lost the White House in November. The GOP’s hopes for retaining control of the Senate now hinge on Perdue defeating Ossoff.
Warnock delivered celebratory remarks and declared victory over Loeffler after midnight, as he led by less than a percentage point.
“Georgia, I am honored by the faith that you have shown in me, and I promise you this tonight: I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election,” Warnock said in brief remarks delivered virtually.
Addressing supporters in Atlanta before the race was called in Warnock’s favor, Loeffler insisted she still has a path to victory.
“We are going to win this election,” Loeffler declared.
The Democrats had been trailing, but received a huge boost as a large number of votes from Democratic-heavy DeKalb County were counted early Wednesday morning.
In a statement, Ossoff’s campaign manager Ellen Foster all but declared victory.
“When all the votes are counted we fully expect that Jon Ossoff will have won this election to represent Georgia in the United States Senate,” Foster said. “The outstanding vote is squarely in parts of the state where Jon’s performance has been dominant.”
But Perdue’s campaign vowed to fight on in its own statement: “This is an exceptionally close election that will require time and transparency to be certain the results are fair and accurate and the voices of Georgians are heard. We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”https://www.politico.com/2020-election/results/georgia/embeds/maps/toggle/
Georgia is a fitting setting for the conclusion of the 2020 elections, as the most closely divided battleground state in the country in November, with Biden defeating Trump by only 12,000 votes to turn the state blue for the first time in decades.
The two Democratic Senate candidates both trailed Biden’s performance here in November, and the party has consistently struggled in runoffs in the state, with Democratic voters dropping off in higher numbers than the GOP’s more reliable base. Ossoff and Warnock needed massive turnout among Democratic-leaning voters, especially African Americans, to have a chance.
But both candidates have raised more than $100 million since the November election, allowing them to spend enormous sums on TV and online advertisements and field operations to scale up their campaigns for the challenge. Democrats, led by former gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, have registered thousands of new voters in recent years to help change Georgia from a reliably red state to a battleground.
“This is the culmination of many years of work and struggle,” Ossoff told reporters outside a polling place here Tuesday morning. “A decade of organizing, much of this work led by Stacey Abrams to register voters, mobilize communities, empower the people to participate.”
Trump, meanwhile, has railed against the November results throughout the runoff, attacking GOP officials in the state, falsely calling the election rigged and even pressuring the Republican secretary of state to “find” votes to overturn the result. His posture has frustrated Republicans and complicated their efforts in the state to get his supporters back out to the polls, especially as he has continued to undermine the party’s messaging and inflame tensions among GOP leaders.
But on Monday night in the state’s conservative northwest corner, Trump rallied thousands of his supporters in an effort to boost turnout among his supporters in the state. High turnout among GOP voters on Tuesday would likely give Republicans two victories.
“This could be the most important vote you will ever cast for the rest of your life,” Trump said at a rally on an airport tarmac in Dalton — though his appearance was more geared toward pressuring GOP lawmakers to back his efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election during Wednesday’s joint session of Congress, when both chambers will vote to certify Biden’s Electoral College votes.
Both Republican campaigns claimed that Election Day turnout was strong in the area where Trump appeared on Monday, though they cautioned in a joint statement to reporters that “this is going to a very close election and could come down to the difference of just a few votes in a few precincts across the state.”
Democrats are hammering Loeffler and Perdue over their support of Trump’s long-shot bid, which has attracted the support of more than a dozen senators and a large chunk of House Republicans.
“Whether [Trump] knows it or not, he’s on his way out the door. What concerns me is that we have two United States senators in Georgia who are aiding and abetting an effort to literally rob the people of their voices and their votes,” Warnock told reporters Tuesday. “I think that’s outrageous. The good news is: The people of Georgia have a chance to do something about that right now.”
Democrats have consistently called on their voters to finish the job following Biden’s win in the state, and the message has resonated among his supporters.
Jeff Fauntleroy, a retired police officer there to see Biden, Ossoff and Warnock at their rally here Monday, said he cast his ballot on the first day of early voting and thought Biden and the Democrats would return “civility” to Washington. And he said Trump was helping them make the case.
“The best thing you do is just keep him talking,” he said of Trump.