Democrats clinched control of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, with Raphael Warnock defeating Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler in a close race and Jon Ossoff narrowly beating Republican incumbent David Perdue.
The victories will give Democrats 50 votes in the Senate, with incoming vice president Kamala Harris poised to break a tie. After Jan. 20, Democrats will control both chambers of congress and the White House for the first time since 2010, enabling President-elect Joe Biden to pursue a progressive policy agenda with full legislative backing.
While Republicans have historically dominated runoff elections in Georgia, President-elect Joe Biden’s narrow victory in November along with a vocal campaign led by failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams fueled Democratic hopes that the party could prevail.
The results of the races have enormous implications for both President Donald Trump and his successor. Among Republicans, the impact of Trump’s voter fraud allegations and his relentless attacks on the state’s top Republican leaders, will be hotly debated. Perdue led Ossoff by two points in the November election that forced Tuesday's runoff, and Trump is likely to shoulder the blame for Perdue's comparatively weaker performance.
Before results were even tallied on Tuesday evening, one top GOP operative voiced concerns that the president's allegations of voter fraud would undermine the party. "Given everything that has been going on down here, a half-billion dollars on TV, that field operation, … it’s hard to come to any other conclusion that when you’re underperforming in Trump-y or Republican areas, that the impact is all the extracurricular stuff that’s going on," the operative said.
For Biden, the Democratic victories will all but ensure Senate confirmation for a slate of cabinet nominees that would have otherwise faced resistance from a Republican Senate and grease the skids for the passage of ambitious legislation.
Over the past two months, both parties flooded the state with historic sums: Spending in the races neared $900 million and is expected to exceed the total spent last year in the three most expensive Senate races in history combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Senate races were also a referendum on Abrams’s leadership in the Peach State. The failed gubernatorial candidate has made it her mission to turn Georgia blue. Abrams on Wednesday is set to go with a statewide ad campaign urging Georgia voters to "check the status of your ballot" and referring them to a voter-fraud hotline.
Abrams, who passed up the opportunity to jump into the race herself, was the principal reason Democrats tapped Warnock, who was by no means the party's default candidate.
"There is a huge bench of voters that wanted to run, huge," the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Greg Bluestein told National Journal in November, noting that Abrams "made it super clear that Warnock was her pick and woe be to those who want to challenge him."
Warnock’s voluminous sermons gave Republicans fodder to assail him as a radical out-of-step with Georgia voters. From the pulpit, he argued that "nobody can serve God and the military" simultaneously and asserted that "America needs to repent for its worship of whiteness"—comments that became the centerpiece of Loeffler’s campaign. He also faced criticism for his praise of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s "God Damn America" speech, which he repeatedly called a "very fine sermon."
The mainstream media, however, largely ignored Warnock’s 2002 arrest for allegedly obstructing child abuse at a camp connected to his church. At least five child abuse cases were brought by Maryland’s Department of Social Services against the camp’s director, according to Maryland state records, and one former camper told the Free Beacon that counselors threw urine on him and locked him outside his cabin all night as a punishment for wetting the bed when he attended the camp at age 12. The camp later had its operating certificate denied by the Maryland Department of Health for health and safety violations and failing to properly report child abuse claims.
Candidates of both parties stuck together throughout the race, with the pair of Democrats lodging attacks against both Republicans and vice versa. Perdue and Loeffler sought to portray Ossoff and Warnock as radicals whose votes would give Biden and Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) unfettered power to push forward a left-wing agenda. Democrats argued that Perdue and Loeffler, who are among the wealthiest members of the Senate, had used their positions to enrich themselves with well-timed stock trades.
Historical trends in the state have typically favored Republicans in runoff elections. Republican senator Saxby Chambliss won the Georgia's last Senate runoff by 15 points in 2008. But President-elect Joe Biden's narrow November victory emboldened Democrats working to flip the upper chamber. Biden won the state by just 11,779 votes, becoming the first Democrat to do so in nearly two decades.
Tuesday’s election shattered turnout records, with approximately 4.6 million votes cast, more than doubling the 2.1 million votes cast in the 2008 runoff election that sent Chambliss back to the Senate.
Update 8:00 a.m.: This post has been updated with further information.