Democrats win crucial runoff Senate vote in Georgia, second race still too close to call

Democrat Raphael Warnock ousted an incumbent Republican Wednesday in the first of two critical runoff elections in Georgia that will decide control of the US Senate at the outset of Joe Biden's presidency, networks projected.

Warnock, a Black pastor with deep roots in Georgia, narrowly ousted his rival Senator Kelly Loeffler, CBS, NBC and CNN reported, in what is an embarrassment for President Donald Trump as he wraps up his four years in office.

The outcome of the second runoff, which is coming down to the wire, will now determine which party controls the Senate in the first two years of the Biden era.

Early Wednesday morning, Warnock gave what amounted to a victory speech, saying he was honored by the faith that voters had shown in him and promising to work for all Georgians.

Warnock, appearing on video after midnight, expressed optimism, saying he had “proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”

The two Senate runoff elections are leftovers from the November general election, when none of the candidates hit the 50% threshold. Democrats need to win both races to seize the Senate majority — and, with it, control of the new Congress when Biden takes office in two weeks.

President Donald Trump encouraged his loyalists to turn out in force even as he undermined the integrity of the electoral system by pressing unfounded claims of voter fraud to explain away his own defeat in Georgia.

In one contest, Republican Kelly Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state’s governor, lost to Democrat Warnock, 51, who serves as the senior pastor of the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up and preached.

The other election pitted 71-year-old former business executive David Perdue, a Republican who held his Senate seat until his term expired on Sunday, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. At just 33 years old, Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member.

This week’s elections mark the formal finale to the heated 2020 election season more than two months after the rest of the nation finished voting. The heightened significance of the runoffs transformed Georgia, once a solidly Republican state, into one of the nation’s premier battlegrounds during the final days of Trump’s presidency.

Biden and Trump campaigned for their candidates in person on the eve of the election, though some Republicans feared Trump may have confused voters by continuing to make wild claims of voter fraud as he tries to undermine Biden’s victory. The president has assailed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, repeatedly for rejecting his fraud contentions and raised the prospect that some ballots might not be counted even as votes were being cast Tuesday afternoon.

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