On Wednesday morning, Democrats were poised to capture both U.S. Senate seats in Georgia’s runoff elections–victories that would give their party control of the chamber and end the Donald Trump era with a crushing defeat for Republicans.
The races were still too close to call early Wednesday for the major networks. But analysts such as David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report predicted both Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the two Democratic candidates, would defeat their respective Republican opponents Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
With more than 95 percent of the vote in and most of the uncounted ballots coming from bright Blue Democratic counties, the path to victory for the two GOP incumbents seemed narrow although Perdue seemed to face better odds than Loeffler. Stunning Black turnout around the state and only modest enthusiasm in Republican strongholds appeared to propel the two Democrats to narrow, but not identical, victories. Warnock outperformed his Democratic colleague, Ossoff, by a small but persistent margin throughout the tense evening. The double runoff had all the hallmarks of the recent national election–massive media coverage, nine-figure ad spending, and the rapt attention of both parties.
If the Democrats prevail in Georgia it’ll be a stunning blow to the GOP–not only to President Trump who took two trips to the state since November to campaign for Perdue and Loeffler but also for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who would find himself in the minority for the first time in six years. Ossoff and Warnock winning would create a 50-50 tie in the Senate with soon-to-be Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. In that case, Democrats would control the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, albeit by the narrowest of margins. With President-elect Joe Biden due to take office in less than two weeks, Democrats would control all three chambers for the first time in a decade.
The dramatic vote in Georgia comes just a day before Congress will certify that Joe Biden won the election–despite promised protests from Senate and House Republicans–as well as protestors gathered in Washington, D.C.– disseminating the false claim that the election was tainted by massive fraud. It was not.
Ossoff and Warnock, should they win, would be historic pathbreakers. Warnock, the head pastor at the church once presided over by Martin Luther King, Jr., would be the first African-American Senator from Georgia and the first American-American Democrat elected to the chamber from the South. He would be one of just three African-American senators, the others being New Jersey’s Cory Booker and South Carolina’s Tim Scott. Ossoff would be the first Jewish U.S. Sentaor from Georgia and would, at 33, be the youngest member of the Senate. Neither has ever won a general election.
Ossoff’s political career, in many ways, marks the beginning and end of the Trump era. The documentary filmmaler ran for Congress in 2017 in a special election to replace Rep. Tom Price who vacated his suburban Atlanta seat to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, a position he was forced abandon nine months later after questions arose about his travels at government expense. The contest drew national attention and Ossoff lost narrowly to Republican Karen Handel who subsequently lost in 2018. But the Atlanta-area native’s competitive showing in a red district positioned him well for the 2020 U.S. Senate race. Ossoff has now been under the kleig lights in three high-profile elections, a remarkable trajectory for someone who had never run for office less than four years ago.
Loeffler, whose Senate career is over should trends continue, was appointed to her seat by Gov. Brian Kemp after Sen. Johnny Isakson left the Senate due to ill health. Loeffler, wealthy business executive who owns a WNBA team and is married to the Chair of the New York Stock Exchange, was considered too moderate by many in the Georgia GOP and compensated by running to the right, embracing Trump and distancing erself from her benefactor, Kemp, when Trump attacked the GOP governor for standing by the state’s presidential balloting which Trump falsely said had been corrupt. She tried to shed the trappings of wealth with ball caps and flannel shirts and labeled Warnock a far-left radical, even quoting his sermons against him. She made the runoff against Warnock by coming in ahead of a slew of Republicans in the general election in November. A stiff, sometimes robotic campaigner, she seemed poised to lose as of early Wednesday morning, her attacks on Warnock having fallen short.