Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock has won a hotly contested US Senate race in Georgia, beating Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler.
It is one of two crucial runoff elections in Georgia that will decide control of the Senate – and whether Republicans will be able to block president-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.
The race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican David Perdue was still too close to call on Wednesday morning, meaning it’s up in the air which party will control the chamber.
But Warnock’s victory is significant. He becomes Georgia’s first Black senator, and the first Democrat to win a US Senate race in the state for 20 years. The head-to-head runoff elections, a quirk of state law, became necessary when no candidate in either race exceeded 50% of the vote in November.
Can Democrats win control of the Senate?
Democrats must win both contests to take control of the Senate. A Democratic sweep would create a 50-50 split in the Senate and give vice president-elect Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, the tie-breaking vote after she and Biden take office on January 20. The party already has a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.
If Republicans hold the second seat, they would effectively wield veto power over Biden’s political and judicial appointees as well as many of his legislative initiatives in areas such as economic relief, climate change, healthcare and criminal justice.
Stacey Abrams, whose voter registration efforts have helped build Democratic support in the state, tweeted “we are on a strong path” just before midnight, in reference to the two races.
What are people saying?
On Tuesday, outgoing president Donald Trump had urged Republican voters in north Georgia to turn out and vote, warning “the stakes in this election could not be higher.”
Trump, who was campaigning for Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, continued to repeat the false assertion that he won the presidential race in Georgia. A crowd of several thousand supporters shouted back: “Fight for Trump”.
Warnock told supporters in a livestream message: “We were told that we couldn’t win this election, but tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.
“I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election.”
As well as Warnock becoming Georgia’s first Black US senator, Ossoff, at 33, would be the Senate’s youngest member. Perdue is a former Fortune 500 executive who has served one Senate term. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, was appointed a year ago to fill the seat of a retiring senator.
When will we know the outcome?
Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger said election officials would take a break overnight but resume counting on Wednesday morning, local time. “Hopefully by noon we’ll have a better idea where we are,” he said on CNN.
With 98% reporting, Warnock, was ahead of Loeffler by a percentage point, roughly 40,000 votes, while Ossoff led Perdue by about 3,560 votes, according to Edison Research.
The critical races drew an estimated 4.5 million voters – a record for a runoff – along with nearly half a billion dollars in advertising spending since November 3 and visits on Monday by Trump and Biden.
Most of the votes remaining to be counted are in counties Biden won in November, with roughly 30,000 to go in DeKalb and Newton counties near Atlanta, according to Edison Research estimates.