Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have won runoff races in the southern state of Georgia, the Associated Press news agency has projected.
The victories will give Democrats control of the US Senate and have national ramifications for President-elect Joseph Biden’s administration when he takes office later this month.
The elections of both candidates are historic. Warnock, 51, who serves as pastor for the same Atlanta church that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once led, will become the first Black senator from Georgia in history and the first Black Democrat ever from the American South.
Ossoff will become the first Jewish senator from Georgia. At 33 years-old, he will be the youngest senator and the first of the Millennial-generation in the chamber.
The races were close. On Wednesday afternoon, the AP said Warnock’s lead over Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler had reached 1.2 percentage points, or about 62,000 votes. That lead was expected to grow as more votes were counted.
Later on Wednesday, the AP projected Ossoff as the winner against the Republican David Perdue, with a lead of about 25,000 votes or about 0.56 percentage points.
With their victories, Democrats will control the House of Representatives, the White House and now the Senate in 2021, allowing Biden to enact his agenda with less resistance from Republicans.
While the chamber will have 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (including two independent lawmakers that caucus with Democrats), Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will serve as tie-breaker.
For the past two months, Republicans and Democrats waged a fierce battle over the state, pouring more than $500 million combined into the run-off races to advertise and mobilise voters. The outcome serves as an affirmation that political coalitions and power structures in Georgia – where Republicans have enjoyed dominance for decades–have undergone a massive shift.
Democrats, in part thanks to a decade-long effort led by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to register hundreds of thousands of new voters, were pushed to victory by high turnout among Black voters and a rapidly increasing population, particularly in the state’s growing cities.
“African Americans made up a larger portion of early voters in this election than they did in the general election,” said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta. “That suggests mobilization efforts improved that were targeting these particular groups. And that bodes well for Democrats.”
The election will change Washington
The outcome of Georgia’s elections will have massive, national implications in Washington that will affect federal policy and shape Biden’s ability to govern as president.
“Republicans lost the primary check they could hope to have on Biden in the most productive part of this presidency,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist and former advisor on Senate campaigns. “People are still grappling with the fact that it really happened. It’s still surreal to be talking about and thinking about two Democratic senators from Georgia.”
With a Democratic majority in the Senate, Biden will enjoy more liberty in who he nominates for his cabinet, judicial nominations and in legislation than he would have with Republicans still in control.
“This is absolutely critical to Biden’s success. With these victories he gets to control the flow of legislation to the Senate floor, run the committees and control the investigative and oversight process as well,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to retired Democratic Senator Harry Reid, who served as Senate majority leader from 2007-2015.