Raphael Warnock beat the GOP incumbent in a key race, putting Donald Trump’s party a seat away from losing its majority in the Senate.
Democrat Raphael Warnock has won his Senate runoff election in Georgia against Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, according to US media, putting Donald Trump’s party one seat away from losing its majority in the Senate.
CNN, the New York Times and The Washington Post have called one of the two special runoff elections for Mr Warnock, bringing president-elect Joe Biden’s Democrats tantalisingly close to being able to wrest control of the chamber from the Republicans.
Mr Warnock will be the first ever African-American senator from Georgia.
Democrat Jon Ossoff is also narrowly favoured to win in the other runoff election against GOP incumbent David Perdue.
The two special elections are necessary because no Senate candidate received a majority of the vote on November 3, with the balance of power in the Senate at stake.
The Democrats now have 49 seats to the Republicans’ 50. If Mr Ossoff wins and splits the Senate 50/50, incoming vice president Kamala Harris will hold the tiebreaking vote for the next two years, effectively giving the Democrats total control of the federal government.
Decision Desk has also declared Mr Warnock the winner over Ms Loeffler.
Ossoff and Warnock are both on track for victory with a greater than 95% chance to win, according to our estimates.
This is not a projection, but the remaining vote--including another 18k DeKalb early votes and nearly 100k absentee votes--overwhelmingly favors the Democrats pic.twitter.com/SLaECHdFeT
“My roots are planted deeply in Georgia soil,” Mr Warnock, a reverend, said in a video statement. He said his late father was a pastor, a small business owner and a veteran, and his mother “used to pick somebody’s else’s cotton” in Georgia.
“But 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.
“So I come before you tonight as a man who knows that the improbable journey that led me to this place in this historic moment in America could only happen here.
“We were told that we couldn’t win this election. But tonight we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible. May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream.”
Mr Ossoff’s campaign released a statement on Wednesday morning local time saying: “When all the votes are counted we fully expect that Jon Ossoff will have won this election to represent Georgia in the United States Senate.”
Mr Ossoff is now just ahead of Mr Perdue by a margin of less than 1%. Most of the outstanding vote is believed to favour the Democrats.
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has indicated the final results may not be known until “lunchtime tomorrow”.
Because this is politics, the internal recriminations among Republican officials began before either race was called.
Gabriel Sterling, a Republican who serves as Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, told CNN it would be President Trump’s fault if Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler ended up losing.
Mr Sterling has repeatedly debunked Mr Trump’s claims about voter fraud in public since the presidential election, voicing his fear that Republican voters would not bother to show up and vote for Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler if they thought the results were rigged anyway.
“If one of the Republican candidates, or both, lose their seats in the Senate, who would be to blame?” a reporter asked him as the votes started to roll in.
“Well, I’ll speak for – outside of my role working for the state. This is a personal opinion. That will fall squarely on the shoulders of President Trump and his actions since November 3,” said Mr Sterling.
“When you tell people, ‘Your vote doesn’t count, it’s been stolen,’ and people start to believe that, and then you go to the two senators and ask them to tell the Secretary of State to resign and trigger a civil war in the Republican Party – when we need Republicans to unite – all of that stems from his decision making since the November 3 election.”
Mr Sterling went on to agree with the proposition that Mr Trump had “single-handedly divided the party”.
Reporters have also been receiving cranky text messages from Republican strategists, which is pretty standard election night stuff.
A different factor in the race may have been the Republican Party’s refusal to back Mr Trump’s call for more generous stimulus payments to Americans as part of a coronavirus relief package that passed through Congress last month.
“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $US600 to $2000, or $4000 for a couple,” the President demanded on Christmas Eve, when the bill had already been passed after months of painful negotiations.
Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did not comply, and Mr Trump ended up begrudgingly signing the bill into law.
Meanwhile, the Democrats turned bigger stimulus payments into a campaign issue, promising $2000 cheques would pass the Senate if voters in Georgia gave them the numbers.
At the same time, Mr Trump was running TV ads claiming he’d been robbed in the presidential election.
The President held a massive political rally in Georgia the night before the runoff elections, where he repeated a number of his baseless fraud theories – though he did also urge his supporters to vote for Mr Perdue and Ms Loeffler.
“You’re going to show up at the polls in record numbers,” he said.
“You’re going to swamp them, and together we’re going to beat the Democrat extremists, and deliver a thundering victory.”
Mr Trump started to make the argument that Republicans needed to retain the Senate to act as a check on the power of a Biden administration, before getting a little sidetracked.
“If the liberal Democrats take the Senate and the White House – and they’re not taking this White House. We’re going to fight like hell,” he said.
“I was telling Kelly before, ‘You can lose it, that’s acceptable. You lose, you lose, you go, you go wherever you’re going, and then you say, ‘Maybe I’ll do it again sometime, or maybe I won’t, or maybe I’ll get back to life.’
“But when you win in a landslide, and they steal it, and it’s rigged, it’s not acceptable.”
He also spent a chunk of the speech attacking Georgia’s Republican Governor, Brian Kemp, and its Republican Secretary of State, Mr Raffensperger.
Both men have supported Mr Trump in the past, but got on his bad side when they certified Mr Biden’s victory in their state.
“I’ll be here in about a year-and-a-half campaigning against your Governor, I guarantee that,” the President promised.