Against the odds, Georgia Democrats make history with Senate runoffs

Democrats have a majority in the House and are projected to control the Senate.

January 6, 2021, 6:33 PM

Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff is projected by ABC News to defeat former Republican Sen. David Perdue, handing the party control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade at a disturbing moment in American history.

The projection in the race came as the nation’s Capitol, where Ossoff is expected to join Georgia's Rev. Raphael Warnock in the Senate, was under siege by supporters of President Donald Trump. The chaotic and violent events began to unfold as Congress was in the middle of counting the electoral votes for the presidential race, despite Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome. That process was halted by protesters breaching the Capitol.

With projected victories in the twin races of Warnock and Ossoff, President-elect Joe Biden will have the narrowest majority in the Senate, with both parties holding 50-50 seats apiece, allowing the tie-breaking vote to be cast by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

"I want to thank the people of Georgia for participating in this election, everybody who cast your ballot, everybody who put your faith and confidence in our democracy's capacity to deliver the representation that we deserve, whether you were for me, or against me, I'll be for you in the U.S. Senate," Ossoff said in videoed remarks Wednesday morning in which he declared victory before a there was a projection.

Ossoff was locked in a slightly tighter race than his Democratic counterpart and now leads Perdue by about 34,000 votes, compared with Warnock's nearly 70,000-vote lead over Loeffler. But the margin Ossoff is leading by is currently 0.7% of total votes cast, which is just outside the 0.5% margin that’s required for his Republican opponent to request a machine recount of the votes.

In the other Senate race, ABC News projected Warnock’s victory in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. He edged out Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat in late 2019 by Gov. Brian Kemp following longtime Sen. Johnny Isakson’s retirement.

Ossoff and Warnock represent two historic victories for Georgia Democrats. Warnock, the senior pastor at Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s former pulpit, Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, will be the first Black senator to represent Georgia, while Ossoff, a 33-year-old Jewish media executive and investigative journalist, will be the youngest Democrat elected to the Senate since Biden was elected in 1972. Neither has ever won elected office, and Ossoff first rose to national prominence as a candidate in the 2017 special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District. He narrowly lost the race, and the campaign is the most expensive House campaign ever.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 4, 2021, file photo, Democratic candidates for Senate Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock, cener, and President-elect Joe Biden bump elbows on stage during a rally outside Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta.
In this Jan. 4, 2021, file photo, Democratic candidates for Senate Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock, cener, and President-elect Joe Biden bump elbows on stage during a rally outside Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

"Georgia is in such an incredible place when you think about the arc of our history, we are sending an African American pastor of Ebenezer Baptist church where Martin Luther King Jr. served and also Jon Ossoff, a young Jewish man, the son of an immigrant to the U.S. Senate," Warnock said on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. "This is the reversal of the old Southern strategy that sought to divide people."

The last two Democrats to represent Georgia in the Senate left office in January 2003 and January 2005, respectively. In the eight statewide runoff elections that have been held since 1992, prior to the ones on the ballot Tuesday, Democrats had never prevailed, even when their candidate was leading in the general election.

In the November election, Ossoff trailed Perdue by approximately 88,000 votes, with Perdue just narrowly missing the necessary 50% threshold a candidate must reach in Georgia to avoid a runoff.

The odds, and history, was against the candidates, but Democratic voters in the state were motivated, fresh off Biden’s narrow victory over Trump in November -- the first time a Democrat secured The Peach State’s electoral votes since former President Bill Clinton did in 1992.

And throughout the two-month runoff campaign, Trump and his Republican allies, including the two Republican candidates and the Georgia Republican Party, spread conspiracy theories about nonexistent election fraud. The president’s rhetoric about a “rigged” election -- including calling the runoff “illegal and invalid” on Twitter just days before Election Day -- prompted real concern among the GOP that their voter turnout would be suppressed.

“If you look over the last few months, the president of the United States spent more time attacking Gov. (Brian) Kemp and Secretary Raffensperger than he did Raphael Warnock and Senator-to be probably Ossoff," Republican Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager in Raffensperger’s office, said on Wednesday before the race was called for Ossoff.

In an interview with CNN, Sterling said, “The president of the United States is 100%, four-square responsible” for the lackluster performance of Loeffler and Perdue.

While the GOP was focused on the general election, Democrats were mobilizing for the runoffs. Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate and the founder of voting rights group Fair Fight, has received heaps of praise for her work to register new voters and then make sure they turn out to vote.

“It’s clear that last night’s showing, alongside President-Elect Biden’s November victory in Georgia, is a testament to the power of the tireless and often unheralded work of grassroots organizing and the resilient, visionary leadership of Stacey Abrams,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement Wednesday.

With two more Democrats heading to the Senate, Biden will have more room to maneuver on policy and nominations when he assumes office. If Republicans retained control of the Senate, it would have left the GOP with influence over Biden’s legislative proposals and appointees over the next two years.

When he'll have the majority depends on how quickly Georgia certifies the election results. Counties can accept select types of ballots until this Friday. They must certify their results a week later, by Jan. 15. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger must certify the statewide results by Jan. 22, two days after Biden's inauguration, though it is possible the counties and state will be able to certify more quickly than that. The governor must also issue a certificate of election to the winners, but the deadline for him to do so is unclear. ABC News is asking the governor's office for clarity.

Democratic control of the Senate will be crucial for Biden’s legislative agenda, and talk of $2,000 stimulus payments is already recirculating.

“We’ll be able to get immediately out the checks for $2,000 for people really hurting,” Biden said on Tuesday, before the races were called.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- who’s poised to take Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s job -- said stimulus payments will be one of his first priorities.

“One of the first things that I want to do when our new senators are seated is deliver the $2000 checks to the American families," he added.

"We sure did not take the most direct path to get here but we are here," he said at a press conference on Wednesday morning. "It feels like a brand new day."

Related Topics