Raphael Warnock is the projected winner of Tuesday's US Senate special election runoff in the state of Georgia, defeating incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Warnock's win leaves one last seat open in the US Senate, which is between Sen. David Perdue and Jon Ossoff.
Ossoff held a slight lead as of early Wednesday morning.
Voting ended Tuesday night at 7 p.m. and the results indicated a pair of very close races. Polls entering the race showed that both races are close with no candidate with a clear advantage.
Full six-year term:
D – Jon Ossoff 50.2%
R – David Perdue 49.8%
D – Raphael Warnock 50.6% (PROJECTED WINNER)
R – Kelly Loeffler 49.4%
98% expected vote reported
Warnock declares victory
Addressing supporters virtually early Wednesday morning, Warnock declared victory despite the race not being formally called at the time of his speech. Warnock held a narrow lead over Loeffler with a small number of ballots still to be counted.
“I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia," Warnock told supporters.
Warnock is a newcomer to politics, but has well-known name within the state. He is the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was founded by Martin Luther King Jr.
Meanwhile, Loeffler said she still has a path toward victory.
"There are a lot of votes out there and we have a path to victory; we are staying on it," she said.
Biden congratulates Warnock
In a statement released Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden congratulated Warnock on his groundbreaking win and said he's hopeful Ossoff will be victorious as well.
"I congratulate the people of Georgia, who turned out in record numbers once again, just as they did in November, to elect two new Senators, demand action, and call on our elected leaders to end the gridlock and move us forward as a nation," said Biden in part. "I also congratulate the twin powers of Georgia, Stacey Abrams and Keisha Lance Bottoms, who have laid the difficult groundwork necessary to encourage turnout and protect the vote over these last years. And I want to thank the local and state election officials and poll workers who yet again in a pandemic, with historic turnout, and under immense political pressure, upheld their duty to hold a free and fair election."
Obama says 'John Lewis is surely smiling down' today
In a statement released on Wednesday, former President Barack Obama said his dear friend John Lewis was "surely smiling down" town after Warnock became the state's first Black senator.
"My friend John Lewis is surely smiling down on his beloved Georgia this morning, as people across the state carried forward the baton that he and so many others passed down to them," Obama said in part. "Georgia's first Black senator will make the chamber more reflective of our country as a whole and open the door for a Congress that can forego gridlock for gridlock's sake to focus instead on the many crises facing our nation—pandemic relief for struggling families, voting rights, protecting our planet, and more."
Vote counting going 'smoothly'
Those conducting the count in Georgia say that the 2021 runoff has gone smoothly, with minimal wait times at the polls.
Turnout also was quite high for a non-presidential race. Nearly 4.4 million votes were counted as of late Tuesday, with thousands more to go. That total is more than the 4 million that voted in the 2016 presidential election in Georgia.
“After wait times averaging just 2 minutes on November 3rd, Georgia’s election administration is hitting a new milestone for effectiveness and efficiency,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “I have always said that after every election, half the people will be happy and half will be disappointed, but everyone should be confident in the reliability of the results.”
What happens if Ossoff wins
The US Senate would be evenly divided with the Democratic and Republican caucuses each holding 50 seats each (two independent senators caucus with the Democrats). Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would then act as a tie-breaker in the Senate, giving the Democrats the advantage of chairing committees and likely making Sen. Chuck Schumer the body’s majority leader. The majority leader is largely responsible for deciding which bills and votes go to the floor, which would mean President-elect Joe Biden would have a much easier time getting his nominees and legislative priorities through the Senate.
What if Perdue wins
Republicans would continue leading the US Senate, and would likely pick Sen. Mitch McConnell to continue leading the caucus. A Republican majority would likely make things much more challenging for Biden to get nominees and legislation through Congress.
Given that McConnell often stalled Obama's nominees in the final two years of his term, a Republican-led Senate could significantly thwart Biden's administration.
Why a runoff
Georgia requires statewide candidates to win with 50% of the vote. In November, neither Senate race produced a candidate with 50% of the vote, which resulted in the top two candidates in each race advancing to tonight’s runoff.
In November, Perdue had 49% compared to Ossoff’s 47%. Meanwhile, Loeffler and Warnock were in a multi-candidate race. Warnock won 33% of the vote, while Loeffler had 25%, which was just enough to hold Rep. Doug Collins off from advancing to the runoff.
Why are there two races
While the race between Perdue and Ossoff is for a full six-year term, Loeffler and Warnock are battling for the remaining two years of Johnny Isakson’s seat. Isakson left the US Senate at the end of 2019 due to health concerns. Loeffler was appointed to fill Isakson’s seat until the election.
Winner could take days
With a narrow margin, several thousand ballots being sent in from overseas could be the difference in the race between Ossoff and Perdue. Officials have until Friday to count those ballots.
Most expensive Senate races in history
The Georgia Senate races were the most expensive races ever run in the US Senate. According to campaign spending watchdogs OpenSecrets.org, nearly $470 million was spent on the race between Ossoff and Perdue. The second-most expensive race ever happens to be the Loeffler versus Warnock race with over $360 million spent.
Some polls allowed to remain open
County officials requested from a judge that several precincts in the state to remain open to accommodate voters. Tift County stayed open until 7:40 p.m., 40 minutes past the scheduled statewide closing time of 7 p.m. A location in Chatham County stayed open until 7:33 p.m. and a second location stayed open until 7:35 p.m. Polling locations in Columbia and Gwinnett counties were ordered to stay open a few minutes late as well.