Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock has won the special Senate runoff in Georgia, toppling Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) just one year after she was appointed to fill retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-GA) seat.
It’s a historic triumph, as Warnock will be the first ever Black senator from Georgia.
“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” Warnock said in an emotional speech early Wednesday morning.
The election between Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Democrat Jon Ossoff is closer, and hasn’t been called yet.
Democrats need to win both seats to gain Senate control.
Warnock, with his deep ties to Georgia’s Black community and pastorship at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church — once home to Martin Luther King Jr. — seems to have inspired enthusiasm for his candidacy that Ossoff, who trailed slightly behind Warnock, didn’t fully replicate.
Loeffler may also have been a weaker candidate than Perdue overall. She didn’t have a true incumbency advantage, having been appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in 2019. She also has relatively shallow roots in Georgia compared to the other three candidates.
“She’s never won office before, and that makes a difference,” Jeffrey Lewis Lazarus, a political science professor at Georgia State University, told TPM.
Loeffler tacked hard to the right, trying to win President Donald Trump’s enduring support, even when it meant turning on her own state’s November election administration. Aiming for a last-minute boost, she announced this week that she would object to certification of the Electoral College vote on Wednesday, a symbolic move that still shreds democratic norms in favor of showing Trump fealty.
Warnock largely escaped attack in the first round of voting, while Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins (R) were busy scrapping it out in a vicious intra-party battle. He even presaged the runoff with a campaign ad jokingly warning Georgians of the flood of attacks soon to be unleashed on him.
He fought Loeffler’s racially-tinged attempts to paint him as an extremist through a focus on bread-and-butter issues, like health care. He homed in on her massive personal wealth and stock trades to characterize her as out of touch.
Trump gave the Democrats an easy last-minute economic appeal by suddenly deciding to demand $2,000 stimulus checks only to have Senate Republicans craftily block their passage. President-Elect Joe Biden made the checks the linchpin of his Monday rally for Ossoff and Warnock in Atlanta, promising that the Democrats’ election “will put an end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check.”
The race was difficult to quantify from beginning to end, due to scant high-quality polling in the state. Still, there seemed to be hopeful indicators for Democrats in the early voting data, including an increased share of the Black vote since the general election. It also pointed to enthusiasm, with consistently high turnout.
“I am so impressed by the turnout,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, told TPM. “This has to be one of the most engaged electorates of any non-presidential races in modern history.”
Republicans failed to compensate for that early lead on Election Day, as GOP strongholds saw low turnout relative to the November election.
Trump’s constant stream of “rigged election” grievances may be in part to blame for depressed Republican turnout, after Georgia voters received weeks of assurances by the President that their electoral system didn’t work. The implication, elected Republicans fretted, was that their voters would conclude their ballots on runoff day wouldn’t matter.
Trump tried to turn that message around with his Monday rally in northern Georgia, though his urging to turn out may have gotten lost amid the hours of election grievances.