Democrats needed both their candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, to prevail in order to control the Senate to back a Biden presidency.
Joe Biden's Democratic Party has taken a giant step towards seizing control of the US Senate as they won the first of two Georgia runoffs, hours before Congress was set to certify the president-elect's victory over Donald Trump.
Reverend Raphael Warnock's victory, projected by multiple US networks overnight, capped a grueling nine-week runoff campaign and puts Georgia's other knife-edge race in the spotlight for its potential to impact the balance of power in Washington.
"I promise you this tonight: I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia," Warnock said in a livestream to supporters.
The hard-fought races have brought the international spotlight onto this southern state, nine weeks after the most tumultuous American election in two decades.
Democrats needed both their candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, to prevail in order to control the Senate after four-years of Republican domination. Outgoing President Donald Trump's party needed either Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue to hold their seat to preserve its majority.
"Georgia – The nation is looking to you to lead us forward," tweeted President-elect Biden earlier on Tuesday.
"The power is in your hands," wrote the 78-year-old Democrat, who like Trump visited the Peach State to rally supporters on the eve of the vote.
Georgia was voting during a week of high political tensions, with Trump desperately scheming to reverse his election loss.
Georgia — If you elect @ReverendWarnock and @Ossoff, we can break the gridlock that has gripped Washington.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 5, 2021
We’ll be able to make the progress we need to make on jobs, health care, justice, and more.
It all comes down to today. Vote: https://t.co/RIJ1L4B5o9
📷: @kevloweryphoto pic.twitter.com/FMfNZvI6gR
Biden beat Trump in Georgia by nearly 12,000 votes in November, where Republicans have won all eight statewide runoffs since 1992. Following the vote, plenty of observers assumed it was about a Trump backlash.
While that was no doubt true, a Democratic presidential nominee doesn't get nearly 2.5 million votes and then watch Democratic Senate candidates follow it up with more than 2 million votes each in razor-thin runoffs two months later unless there's a legitimate party infrastructure, good campaigns and a deep pool of voters to be tapped. Georgia proved its status as a two-party battleground going forward.
GOP strategists felt somewhat better on Tuesday as they watched turnout in conservative counties where early voting had lagged the fall pace considerably. Republicans also reported solid turnout in the outer ring of metro Atlanta, counties where Republicans still have troves of votes.
But, as it goes in the era of Trump, Democratic turnout appeared to stay strong as well. Officials in Fulton County, the most populous in the state and home to Atlanta, said Election Day turnout there exceeded what it was in November. Turnout among Black voters, who trend overwhelmingly Democratic, was particularly strong statewide. That adds up to a steep climb for Republicans.
'Rigged' election claims
Trump may have lost the presidency but his campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the election clearly succeeded with Republican voters in Georgia.
Roughly 9 in 10 of the Republicans’ backers said they lacked confidence that votes in November’s presidential contest were accurately counted. Half said they have no confidence at all in the vote count. That’s roughly five times as many Republicans who said in November they had no confidence that votes would be counted accurately.
That sentiment clearly tracks Trump’s false rhetoric about election fraud, a claim that has been rejected by Attorney General William Barr, dozens of federal courts and several prominent Republican senators. And the findings clearly demonstrate Trump's continued hold on the Republican base, something his fellow GOP politicians will contend with even after he leaves office.
A closely divided Senate, with the rules still requiring 60 votes to advance major bills, lessens the prospects of sweeping legislation regardless. But a Democratic Senate would at least assure Biden an easier path for top appointees, including judges, and legitimate consideration of his legislative agenda.