Democrat Raphael Warnock won one of two rounds of the Georgian Senate on Wednesday, becoming the first black senator in his state’s history and putting the Senate majority within the reach of Democrats.
A pastor who has spent the past 15 years leading the church in Atlanta where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, Warnock defeated Republican President Kelly Loeffler. It was a scathing rebuke from outgoing President Donald Trump, who made one of his last trips to Georgia to rally his loyal base behind Loeffler and Republican contender for the other seat, David Perdue.
The focus is now on the second race between Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. This contest was too early to be called because the votes were still counted. If Ossoff wins, Democrats will have full control of Congress, strengthening President-elect Joe Biden’s position as he prepares to take office on January 20.
Warnock’s victory is a symbol of a dramatic shift in Georgian politics as the growing number of diverse and university-educated voters wield their power in the heart of the Deep South. This marks the end of nearly two decades in which Democrats have been expelled from office statewide and follows Biden’s victory in November, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to bear. state since 1992.
Warnock, 51, admitted his unlikely victory in a message to supporters Wednesday morning, citing his family’s experience with poverty. His mother, he said, used to pick “someone else’s cotton” when she was a teenager.
“The other day, because this is America, someone else’s 82-year-old hands plucking cotton chose his youngest son to become a US senator,” he said. “Tonight we have proven with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.
Loeffler refused to give in in a brief message to supporters shortly after midnight.
“We have work to do here. It’s a game of thumbs. We are going to win this election, ”insisted Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state governor.
Loeffler, who remains Georgia’s senator until Tuesday’s election results are finalized, said she would return to Washington on Wednesday morning to join a small group of senators planning to challenge Congress’ vote to certify victory by Biden.
“We’re going to keep fighting for you,” Loeffler said, “It’s about protecting the American Dream.”
The other runoff in the Georgia election pitted Perdue, a 71-year-old former business executive who held his Senate seat until his term expired on Sunday, against Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist . At just 33 years old, Ossoff would be the youngest member of the Senate.
Trump’s false claims about voter fraud cast a dark shadow over the run-off election, which only happened because no candidate met the 50% threshold in the general election. He attacked the state’s chief electoral officer on the eve of the election and raised the possibility that some votes would not be counted even as the votes were cast on Tuesday afternoon.
Republican state officials on the ground reported no significant issues.
This week’s election marks the official end of the turbulent 2020 election season more than two months after the rest of the country finished voting. The unusually high stakes have turned Georgia, once a solidly Republican state, into one of the country’s main battlegrounds for the final days of Trump’s presidency – and possibly beyond.
The two contests tested whether the political coalition that fueled Biden’s victory in November was an anti-Trump anomaly or part of a new electoral landscape. To win Tuesday’s election – and going forward – Democrats needed strong African-American support.
Drawing on his popularity with black voters, among other groups, Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 out of 5 million votes cast in November.
Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, while baseless, resonated with Republican voters in Georgia. About 7 in 10 agreed with his false claim that Biden was not the legitimately elected president, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,600 voters in the run-off election.
Election officials across the country, including Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, as well as former Trump attorney general William Barr, have confirmed that there was no widespread fraud in the election of November. Almost all of the legal challenges of Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two dismissed by the Supreme Court, where three judges appointed by President Trump.
Even with Trump’s claims, voters from both parties were drawn to the polls because of the high stakes. AP VoteCast found that 6 in 10 Georgian voters say party control in the Senate was the most important factor in their vote.
In Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, Kari Callaghan, 37, said she voted “all Democrats” on Tuesday, an experience that was new to her.
“I’ve always been a Republican, but I’ve been pretty disgusted with Trump and the way Republicans work,” she said. “I feel like the Republican candidates are still here with Trump and campaigning with Trump just seems pretty rotten to me. These are not the conservative values that I grew up with. “
But Will James, 56, said he voted “straight GOP”.
He said he was concerned about recent Republican candidates’ support for Trump’s challenges to the Georgia presidential election results, “but that didn’t really change the reasons I voted.”
“I believe in the balance of power, and I don’t want either party to hold a referendum,” he said.
Even before Tuesday, Georgia had broken its record for participation for a second round with more than 3 million votes by mail or in an advance poll in person in December. The state’s previous record was 2.1 million in a second round of the Senate in 2008.
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