Democrats were poised to take control of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday after high turnout among Black voters boosted their candidates in two runoff elections in Georgia.
Challenger Raphael Warnock beat incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler to take one of the two seats. The race between Jon Ossoff and one-term Senator David Perdue was still too close to call, but Ossoff was leading by more than 16,000 votes and claimed victory.
In a video statement, Ossoff, 33, spoke as if he were headed to Washington, though no one had called his race.
The AP VoteCast survey of more than 2,700 verified Georgia voters found that Black voters made up 32% of the electorate — more than the 29% they were in November. And those voters opted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, by margins of 93% or more.
Of the 115,000 voters who voted in the runoff but skipped the November election, 40% were African-American, according to the Democratic voter data firm TargetSmart.
Warnock, 51, is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the position once held by Martin Luther King Jr. He will become Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator.
“This is a wonderful day here in Georgia and I believe in America. I am an iteration and an example of the American dream,” Warnock told CNN on Wednesday.
Senate control, paired with the Democrats’ narrow majority in the House, would give Biden a unified U.S. government, smoothing the path for his nominees and allowing him to implement major pieces of his agenda.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who stands to replace Mitch McConnell as Majority leader if Ossoff’s race is called in his favor, issued a statement calling it “a brand new day.”
“For the first time in six years, Democrats will operate a majority in the United States Senate — and that will be very good for the American people,” Schumer said, noting that the country was enduring “one of the greatest crises we’ve ever faced.”
Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields rose past 1% for the first time since March and S&P 500 futures fell as traders evaluated the implications of a potential Democratic control of the Senate, such as additional fiscal stimulus and tax hikes. Nasdaq 100 futures tumbled, a sign of concern about the possibility of stepped-up antitrust scrutiny of Internet giants under a Democratic government.
It could take days to get a final tally for the outcome of the race between Perdue and Ossoff, as 17,000 military and overseas ballots, and some domestic absentee ballots, can still be counted as late as Friday. The narrow results will almost certainly spark legal challenges or recounts that also could delay a final determination of Senate control.
Ossoff’s margin is larger than the 11,779 vote lead that helped Biden ultimately flip the state.
Georgia Republicans didn’t turn out in high enough numbers to tamp down overwhelming Democratic participation said Kerwin Swint, director of the school of government at Kennesaw State University. Republicans needed 65% of the election day vote.
In counties that President Donald Trump won in November, turnout was 88% of what it was two months ago. In counties Biden won, it was 89%.
And some Republicans in the state pointed fingers at Trump for damaging their chances.
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“When you tell people your vote doesn’t count and has been stolen and people start to believe that – and then you go to the two senators and tell them to ask the secretary of state to resign and trigger a civil war inside the Republican Party when you need Republicans to unite, all of that stems from his decision-making since the Nov. 3rd election,” said state elections official Gabriel Sterling, a Republican who has aggressively refuted Trump’s unfounded claims of fraud.
Loeffler showed no sign of conceding. “There are a lot of votes out there, as y’all know,” she told supporters. “And we have a path to victory and we’re staying on it.”
Trump Questions Results
The uncertainty over the Senate comes as Congress meets in a joint session on Wednesday to count Electoral College votes that will ratify Biden’s win, even as Trump urged Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers to overturn the results based on baseless claims of a “rigged” election.
Warnock called the move a “distraction” that could have cost Republicans the Georgia Senate seats.
“It’s a distraction. These senators know better, and the people that I’m talking to all across Georgia are concerned about their lives,” he said. “We need to be passing the $2,000 relief checks. Instead, the politicians are focused on their concerns, who’s winning and who’s losing.”
Trump challenged the results as Democrats gained ground and votes were still being counted. He tweeted that “they are setting up a big ‘voter dump’ against the Republican candidates,” and that Democrats “just happened to have found another 4,000 ballots from Fulton County,” which includes the Democratic city of Atlanta.
Fighting for party control of the Senate made the races important enough. But against the backdrop of Trump’s baseless claims of vote fraud and corruption by Georgia elections officials — topped by his extraordinary hour-long phone call demanding that officials “find” enough votes to overturn the presidential election — the races also became a test of Trump’s continued hold on the GOP.
If Perdue manages to pull out a win, Biden would face a still-GOP-controlled Senate largely unwilling to back many of his plans to develop a federal response to controlling the coronavirus pandemic, deliver more economic stimulus, or raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
Perdue, 71, a first-term Republican senator and former corporate executive, ran against Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker who gained national attention in a 2017 special election for an Atlanta-area House seat.
In almost every way, Perdue’s and Loeffler’s calculations were to stick tightly to the president, or at least not alienate Trump voters and the party’s base. The duo both called for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign after he dismissed Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, and both have backed the effort in the Senate to challenge the election results when Congress certifies the November election on Wednesday.
Both Republican senators described their foes as “dangerously radical” and warned Ossoff and Warnock would hand over power in Washington to “socialists” like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.