By STEVE PEOPLES, BILL BARROW and RUSS BYNUM
ATLANTA (AP) – Democrat Raphael Warnock won one of two runoff elections in the Georgian Senate on Wednesday. He became the first black Senator in his state’s history and brought the Senate majority within the party’s reach.
Warnock, a pastor who led the Atlanta Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached for the past 15 years, defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. It was a stinging reprimand for outgoing President Donald Trump, who made one of his final official trips to Georgia to rally his loyal base behind Loeffler and the Republican running for the other seat, David Perdue.
The focus now shifts to the second race between Perdue and the Democrat Jon Ossoff. This competition was too early to call as votes were still being counted.
There were still a few postal ballot papers and early personal votes that had to be counted nationwide, the majority of which are in democratic counties. According to Georgian law, a trailing candidate can request a recount if the electoral margin does not exceed 0.5 percentage points.
If Ossoff wins, the Democrats will have complete control of Congress and will bolster President-elect Joe Biden as he prepares for office on Jan. 20.
Warnock’s victory is a symbol of a remarkable change in Georgian politics as the growing number of diverse graduated voters unfold their power in the heart of the deep south. It follows Biden’s victory in November when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 to run the state.
Warnock, 51, confirmed his unlikely victory in a message to supporters early Wednesday, citing his family’s experience of poverty. His mother, he said, used to pick “someone else’s cotton” as a teenager.
“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old Hands who used to pick someone else’s cotton picked their youngest son to be a United States Senator,” he said. “Tonight, with hope, hard work and the people by our side, we demonstrated that anything is possible.”
The Associated Press named Warnock the winner after an analysis of the pending votes found Loeffler was unable to catch up with his lead. Warnock’s lead is likely to increase as more ballots are counted, many of which were in democratic areas.
Loeffler refused to send a short message to the supporters shortly after midnight.
“We have something to do here. This is a customs game. We’ll win this election, ”said Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate by the state governor less than a year ago.
Loeffler, who remains a Senator in Georgia until Tuesday’s election results close, said she will return to Washington Wednesday morning to join a small group of senators who want to challenge the Congressional vote to confirm Biden’s victory.
“We will continue to fight for you,” said Loeffler, “this is about protecting the American dream.”
In the other runoff elections in Georgia, Perdue, a 71-year-old former executive who held his Senate seat until his term ended on Sunday, ran against Ossoff, a former congressional assistant and journalist. At just 33, Ossoff would be the youngest member of the Senate.
Trump’s false claims of electoral fraud cast a dark shadow over the runoff elections, which were held only because no candidate reached the 50% threshold in the general election. He attacked the state election supervisor on the eve of the election, raising the prospect that some votes might not be counted even if votes were cast on Tuesday afternoon.
Local Republican officials reported no significant problems.
This week’s elections mark the official finale of the turbulent 2020 election season, more than two months after the rest of the nation finished voting. The unusually high stakes turned Georgia, once a solidly republican state, into one of the nation’s main battlegrounds for the final days of Trump’s presidency – and likely beyond.
Both competitions examined whether the political coalition that fueled Biden’s November victory was an anti-Trump anomaly or part of a new electoral landscape. To win Tuesday’s election – and in the future – the Democrats needed strong African American support.
Because of his popularity with black voters, Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, among other things, with about 12,000 of the 5 million votes cast in November.
Trump’s allegations of electoral fraud in the 2020 elections, while unfounded, received widespread support from Republican voters in Georgia. About 7 out of 10 agreed with his false claim that Biden was not the legitimately elected president, according to AP VoteCast, a poll of more than 3,600 voters in the runoff election.
Election officials across the country, including Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, as well as Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr, have confirmed that there was no widespread fraud in the November election. Almost all of Trump and his allies’ legal challenges have been dismissed by judges, including two thrown from the Supreme Court, which is presided over by three Trump-nominated judges.
Despite Trump’s claims, voters from both parties were drawn to the elections because of the high stakes. AP VoteCast found that 6 in 10 Georgia voters say Senate Party’s control is the most important factor in their vote.
Before Tuesday, Georgia broke its turnout record for a runoff election with more than 3 million votes by post or in personal pre-votes in December. Ultimately, including Tuesday’s vote, more people cast ballots in the runoff election than in Georgia’s 2016 presidential election.
In Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, 37-year-old Kari Callaghan said she voted All Democrat on Tuesday, an experience she was new to.
“I’ve always been a Republican, but Trump and the way Republicans work made me pretty disgusted,” she said. “I feel like the Republican candidates are still with Trump and the campaign with Trump is pretty lazy. These are not the conservative values I grew up with. “
But 56-year-old Will James said he chose “Straight GOP”.
He said he was concerned about the recent support from Republican candidates for Trump’s challenges in the Georgian presidential election results, “but it didn’t really change the reasons I voted.”
“I believe in a balance of power and I basically don’t want any party to hold a referendum,” he said.
People reported from New York. Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia. Associate press writers Haleluya Hadero, Angie Wang, Sophia Tulp, Ben Nadler and Kate Brumback from Atlanta contributed to this report.