By Terrance Turner
Jan. 5, 2021 (updated Jan. 6)
Rev. Raphael Warnock has won the Georgia runoff election. He will become the first Black senator ever to represent Georgia. Rev. Warnock’s victory, combined with a convincing lead by Democrat Jon Ossoff, all but assures that Democrats will take back control of the Senate.
Warnock maintains a 50.5% lead to Sen. Kelly Loeffner’s 49.5% — a full percentage point, more than twice the 0.5% margin that would trigger a recount. While the other race has still not been called, Ossoff, who leads Republican David Perdue by about 16,000 votes in the Georgia runoff that could give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. UPDATE: Jon Ossoff has won the Georgia runoff race, according to multiple sources including NPR and the New York Times. The victory became official at approx. 3:20 pm Wednesday.)
He claimed victory Wednesday morning, according to an NPR report at about 8:40 AM ET. The Associated Press, which NPR relies on for its results, has not yet called the contest. However, Ossoff thanked supporters in a message that sounds rather definitive. “It is with humility that I thank the people of Georgia for electing me to serve you in the United States Senate,” Ossoff said in remarks Wednesday morning.
This is an updated and developing story. Original content follows below:
Tonight, the ultra-important Senate runoffs take place in Georgia. The races will determine which party — Republican or Democrat — will control the U.S. Senate. If Democrats win both Senate seats, they will control the Senate. The result will be 50-50, but Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris will be the tie-breaking vote. This election determines how much of President-Elect Joe Biden’s agenda will be enacted. It also determines the fate of the $2000 stimulus checks that Senate Mahority Leader (for now) Mitch McConnell has blocked repeatedly.
Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffner are both up for re-election. Their opponents are Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively. Rev. Warnock (born 1969) is one of twelve children, a man who obtained a B.A. in psychology from Morehouse College and a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary. He is also a pastor who came to prominence in Atlanta, after becoming pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2005. He became the youngest ever called to be senior pastor of Ebenezer, at age 35, according to HeritageHouse.org. It was the same church in which Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached.
In 2014, Warnock gained national attention after he helped lead a sit-in inside the Georgia State Capitol. He initiated the direct action to convince lawmakers to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. (Under the ACA, all U.S. residents up to 133% of the poverty line would qualify for coverage. It will cost Georgia more to cover residents under partial expansion than if it simply expanded Medicaid fully, as the ACA calls for.)
Warnock was among dozens arrested as a result of the sit-in. But he remains a supporter of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a government-run public option. “Jesus spent a lot of time healing the sick,” he said. “Even those with pre-existing conditions.” Warnock also supports abortion rights and gay marriage, per the New York Times. That makes him a unique candidate: will Georgians endorse a religious progressive? And will they make him the first Black senator ever to represent Georgia?
Thomas Jonathan Ossoff (b. 1987) was born to a Jewish owner of a publishing company and an Australian imnigrant management consultant. While in high school, he interned for legendary civil rights leader and U.S. House Representative John Lewis. “If anyone can do it, you can,” Lewis told Ossoff, encouraging him to run in Georgia’s conservative 6th district. He did.
Ossoff attended Georgetown University and in 2013 became CEO of a documentary film company. The films produced include a feature on ISIS war crimes in Iraq. His background in journalism marks a surprising shift to politics. But Ossoff has a clear platform. “What Ossoff stands for is an economy-first pragmatism buttressed by unqualified support for liberal causes, including Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights,” writes the Daily Beast. Indeed, Ossoff is pro-choice and supports both marriage equality and the Equality Act. Significantly, both Ossoff and Warnock support $2000 stimulus checks for Americans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The races have shifted several times over the course of the night. With 79% of the vote in, Sen. Kelly Loeffner lead Rep. Raphael Warnock, 50.6% to 49.4%. Sen. David Perdue led Jon Ossoff by a 51% to 49% margin. The largest batch of votes, as of 9:05 pm, were in DeKalb County (which only had 37% of the vote in). DeKalb County is a majority-black county. It contains about 10% of the city of Atlanta, It’s the fourth-largest county in the state, per Wolf Blitzer.
CNN reporter Pamela Brown said that 171,000 early in-person votes still had yet to be counted (as of 9:17 pm). Those votes are still being counted. By 10:25 pm, both races were down to the same margin. Warnock led by 50.2% to Loeffner’s 49.8%. Perdue led Ossoff by 50.2% to 49.8%. But the race has since tightened — and expanded.
As it currently stands, Warnock has a slight but solid lead over Loeffner. He currently has 50.4% of the vote, compared with Loeffner’s 49.6%. By contrast, the Perdue-Ossoff race is a virtual dead heat: both maintain roughly 50% of the vote apiece. That race has been a near-tie for over an hour, with Perdue’s lead numbering only 456 votes at one point at 10:43 pm.
As of 12:30 am, there are 19,000 in-person early votes in DeKalb County that are still uncounted. There are technical glitches that are causing a delay with the votes, CNN reports. NBC News adds that there is a problem with the memory cards; thus workers in Decatur are now counting ballots by hand. Results incoming….
UPDATE (1:20 AM): Rev. Raphael Warnock has won the Senate seat in Georgia. NBC News projected Warnock as the winner roughly 10 minutes ago.
With Democratic wins looking increasingly certain, many are thanking former Rep. Stacey Abrams.
Abrams was in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017. She ran for governor of Georgia in 2018. Abrams was running to become Georgia’s first black female governor. Her opponent was Brian Kemp, who was Georgia Secretary of State until two days post-election and was in charge of state voter rolls. According to the New York Times, about 670,000 voters were purged from voter rolls in 2017. The Guardian charged that, of those, 340,134 voters were removed from the rolls improperly — by Kemp. Journalist Greg Palast reported that voters were removed on the basis that they had moved — but they actually still lived at their registration address.
“The registration is cancelled. Not pending, not inactive — cancelled,” Palast said. 53,000 voter registration applications a month before the election. Abrams lost to Kemp by about 53,000 votes, but refused to concede. Instead, Abrams sued state election officials, alleging that they “grossly mismanaged” the election.
Abrams also launched Fair Fight 2018, a voting rights organization to promote fair elections around the country. Fair Fight encourages voter participation and educates voters about their rights. Also, the organization raised $34.5 million in just 39 days from late October to the last week of November, funneling a large chunk of the money into helping Democratic candidates, per the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
It was Abrams’ efforts that helped re-enfranchise Georgia voters. Vox credited her with helping a record surge of Georgia voters to the polls in November. “Abrams’s group Fair Fight and other voting rights groups like the New Georgia Project have been putting a ton of effort into registering and turning out Black voters at high rates this year. And those efforts have been successful. The state has already hit record registration levels, with about 7.6 million voters registered. And since early voting started, more than 2.7 million voters have cast ballots — at least 1 million of whom were Black.”
UPDATE: Ossoff has won the Georgia runoff. Multiple sources including NPR have confirmed that Ossoff has won, sealing control of the Senate for the Democratic Party. Ossoff is the youngest man elected to the Senate since Joe Biden in 1973.