Democrat Raphael Warnock edged ahead of incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Jon Ossoff outpaced incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue in Georgia’s two Senate runoffs — races that determine which party controls the Senate under a Biden administration.
Late Tuesday night, Newsmax and partner Decision HQ made the call for Warnock, who, in early-morning remarks, promised he would go to the Senate to work for all of Georgia.
“We were told that we couldn’t win this election,” said Warnock, who led by some 40,000 votes with 99 percent of the ballots counted. “But tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”
Newsmax and Decision HQ called the Ossoff-Perdue race for Ossoff early Wednesday after Ossoff’s lead widened to more than 16,000 votes.
For Democrats to take control of the Senate, both Warnock and Ossoff needed to win. That splits the Senate 50-50 between Republicans and the Democrat caucus, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes. Republicans only need to win one seat to hold the majority.
The ongoing results were reminiscent of the November election, which Trump appeared to be winning early in the night before Biden ultimately won with about 12,000 more votes out of 5 million cast.
“I think Republicans have a turnout problem,” tweeted Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report.
Republicans needed a strong turnout of voters on Tuesday to overcome an expected Democratic advantage in early and mail-in ballots. That may have been hampered by Trump’s false insistence that the results in Georgia in November were so tainted that they needed to be thrown out. Loeffler and Perdue issued a rare statement in the late afternoon pleading with their supporters to go to the polls before they closed.
There were reports of strong in-person turnout in some counties on Tuesday after almost 3.1 million Georgians cast ballots beforehand. Because of the high number of absentee ballots, there is a chance the winners will not be determined for days if the race is close as all outstanding ballots are counted.
Fighting for party control of the Senate made the races important enough. But against the backdrop of Trump’s claims of vote fraud and corruption by Georgia elections officials — topped by his hour-long phone call demanding that officials “find” enough votes to overturn the presidential election — the races also became a test of Trump’s continued hold on the GOP.
The races also will determine Biden’s power to advance his agenda, as Democrats need victories in both seats to leave the Senate with a 50-50 split, enabling Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes. If either Republican wins, Biden faces a still-GOP-controlled Senate largely unwilling to back many of his plans to develop a federal response to controlling the coronavirus pandemic, deliver more economic stimulus, or raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
Perdue, 71, a first-term Republican Senator and former corporate executive, sought reelection against Ossoff, 33, a documentary filmmaker who gained national attention in a 2017 special election for an Atlanta-area House seat.
And Loeffler, 50, the wealthiest member of Congress, was trying to hold on to her seat against a challenge from Warnock, 51, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, a position once held by Martin Luther King Jr.
In an unusual joint statement issued less that four hours before the polls closed, Perdue and Loeffler called on Republican voters in Georgia to turn out. After noting that they were “encouraged by reports of high voter turnout across the state,” they pivoted to urge more Republicans to show up at polling places.
“This generational election will be decided by the votes cast in the next few hours — no one should be sitting on the sidelines,” they wrote in the statement sent at 3:39 p.m. “Go vote!”
Voter turnout in DeKalb County, a Democrat stronghold, on Tuesday exceeded levels seen in the Nov. 3 general election, a county spokeswoman said. While turnout numbers weren’t available early Tuesday evening, a strong total in the metro Atlanta county would likely benefit Warnock and Ossoff. The county supported Biden over Trump in November by a margin of 83% to about 15%.
Georgia’s rapidly changing demographics are making the state competitive for Democrats.
White voters opted for Loeffler with 72% and Perdue with 73%, according to AP VoteCast, a phone and online survey of more than 2,700 verified Georgia voters conducted over the past eight days. Black voters, who made up almost a third of the electorate, went overwhelmingly for Ossoff, 94%, and Warnock, 93%. Latino voters went for Ossoff with 55% and Warnock with 57%, the survey showed.
The Democrat wins would mark the first time Georgia elected a senator from the party in two decades, and if Warnock defeats Loeffler, he would be state’s first African-American U.S. senator.
The races also smashed Senate-race spending records, together nearing a half-billion dollars spent since the Nov. 3 general election, on top of the $205 million spent before that, according to Rick Dent, a political consultant who tracks campaign spending.
Perdue and Loeffler, and Ossoff and Warnock, essentially ran as party tickets in their unprecedented all-or-nothing runoff, with good reason. History suggested they would be joined at the hip in the eyes of voters, anyhow.
In almost every way, Perdue’s and Loeffler’s calculations were to stick tightly to the president, or at least not alienate Trump voters and the party’s base. The duo both called for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign after he dismissed Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, and both have backed the effort in the Senate to challenge the election results when Congress certifies the November election on Wednesday.
Both Republican senators describe their foes as “dangerously radical” and warned Ossoff and Warnock would hand over power in Washington to “socialists” like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ossoff and Warnock depicted their wealthy Republican opponents as out-of-touch multimillionaires. Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, recently became a billionaire and is the chief executive officer of Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange. Loeffler co-owns the Atlanta Dreams WNBA team and some players have campaigned against her.