Democrats appear on the brink of taking control of the U.S. Senate with Raphael Warnock the projected winner over Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Jon Ossoff leading Republican Sen. David Perdue in Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections.
Around 2 a.m. ET Wednesday, the Associated Press projected Warnock the winner over Loeffler after the Atlanta pastor built his statewide lead to more than 46,500 votes.
Warnock made history with his election win, becoming the first Black Democrat elected as a U.S. senator from a state in the South and only the 11th Black senator in the history of the nation. He becomes the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race in Georgia in 20 years.
“To everyone out there struggling today, whether you voted for me or not, know this,” Warnock said as he declared victory in a video from his home. “I hear you, I see you, and every day I’m in the United States Senate, I will fight for you. I will fight for your family.”
Trailing much of the night, Ossoff surged ahead of Perdue by more than 8,500 votes after batches of votes from Democrat-heavy DeKalb County were released. Most uncounted votes remain in Democratic strongholds in the metro Atlanta area.
“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,” Ossoff campaign manager Ellen Foster said in a statement. “The outstanding vote is squarely in parts of the state where Jon’s performance has been dominant.”
The Perdue campaign was not ready to concede.
In a statement, the Perdue campaign said the race — as they expected – 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.”
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia voting system implementation manager, said he expects most ballots to be counted by Wednesday but for final counts not until Friday.
Warnock’s victory gives Democrats 49 seats in the Senate, one shy of creating a 50-50 tie with Republicans, which would effectively give Democrats control because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote. A win for Ossoff would give Democrats their coveted 50th seat.
The possible Senate sweep in Georgia would give Democrats control of the Senate for the first time since 2004 and boost President-elect Joe Biden’s ability to carry out his early legislative agenda. In November, Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes, becoming the first Democrat to carry the state for president since 1992.
Tuesday’s election was a rare double run-off. Ossoff and Warnock ran against Perdue and Loeffler in the Nov. 3 general election, but no candidate in that race passed the 50% threshold under state law to win the Senate seats outright, forcing Tuesday’s runoffs.
Although Loeffler and Perdue topped their Democratic opponents in votes during the Nov. 3 election, the two Democrats benefited Tuesday from higher turnout in heavily Democratic counties in the Atlanta area. In several cases, they outperformed Biden’s margins of victory in these counties.
Leading up to the election, President Donald Trump leveled a barrage of unfounded allegations about his election loss in Georgia. With Trump calling his election outcome rigged, some Republicans feared it might discourage their voters to turnout in the runoff elections. Trump was in Georgia to campaign for the Republican candidates as recently as Monday night.
Georgia election officials said turnout Tuesday shattered the previous record for a run-off in the state, including more than 3 million who voted early. Nearly $500 million was spent on campaign ads since Nov. 4, indicative of the significance both parties and special interests placed on the race.
Following the playbook that helped Republicans retain control of the Senate after the general election, Loeffler and Perdue attacked their opponents as “radical socialists” and said the fate of nation was at stake with the race.
Ossoff and Warnock slammed Loeffler and Perdue for being part of a Republican-controlled Senate that for months refused to pass additional federal coronavirus relief.
Biden campaigned for Ossoff and Warnock just a day before the election, arguing in the last throes of the election that their win would benefit residents in the form of $2,000 direct relief checks to help deal with COVID-19’s economic impact.
Contributing: Ledyard King