Both Senate runoff elections in Georgia were too close to call early Wednesday, according to NBC News, as Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock declared victory in one race.
The contests will determine which party holds the Senate majority for the next two years. Democrats aim for unified control of Congress and the White House. Republicans want a check against President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.
Warnock, the 51-year-old senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, challenged 50-year-old incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. The seat, which Loeffler was appointed to after former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson retired early, will be up for reelection in 2022.
Warnock led Loeffler with roughly 98% of the vote counted early Wednesday morning, according to NBC. He declared victory as his edge grew.
“I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for in this election.” Warnock said in a speech early Wednesday morning. He later added, “Will we play political games while real people suffer, or will we win righteous fights together, standing shoulder to shoulder, for the good of Georgia, for the good of our country?”
Even as Warnock led and outstanding votes dwindled, Loeffler did not concede Wednesday morning and contended “we are going to win this election.”
In the other runoff contest, 71-year-old Republican David Perdue faces 33-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff, who runs a documentary production company. Perdue seeks a second term in the Senate after his first ended Sunday. The race was neck and neck with about 98% of votes in early Wednesday morning.
Both elections went to runoffs after no candidate garnered more than 50% of the vote in the general election.
Counties have largely finished reporting results. Cobb County in the Atlanta metro area said it will not finish tallying results tonight and will resume ballot counting Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. ET.
A sign is seen as voters line up for the U.S. Senate run-off election, at a polling location in Marietta, Georgia, U.S., January 5, 2021.
Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes in November. NBC News did not call his win over President Donald Trump in the Peach State until three days after Election Day, as officials tallied mail-in ballots.
More than 3 million Georgians cast their ballots ahead of Tuesday, marking a historic high turnout for a runoff election in the state. Runoff election data and voter history data suggest Democrats held an advantage in early voting turnout. Republicans hoped for a strong showing on Tuesday.
Average wait time at polling locations hovered around one minute statewide through Tuesday, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office. Top Republican election official Gabriel Sterling said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that election day turnout could range from about 600,000 to 1.1 million voters. Exact numbers are difficult to predict before ballots are counted.
Several precincts closed later than 7 p.m. ET due to delays earlier in the day. The latest was a Lowndes County polling location that closed at 8:00 p.m. ET, according to the Georgia Democratic Party. Voters who were in line before polls close were legally allowed to cast a ballot.
The pair of runoffs in Georgia are the two most expensive Senate races ever, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
If even one of the Republicans win, the GOP will keep Senate control. Democrats need to sweep both races to reach a 50-50 split in the chamber. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would then hold a tiebreaking vote.
The election results will shape the first two years of Biden’s agenda. If Republicans keep the Senate, they will push for a smaller coronavirus relief package than Democrats hope to pass in the coming months. During a rally Monday, Biden and the Democratic Senate candidates stressed wins in Georgia could help them to pass $2,000 direct aid payments — a plan Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposes on its own.
A Democratic Senate would also give Biden a better chance of passing his economic recovery agenda and confirming his chosen Cabinet nominees and judges. Confirmation requires only a majority, while most legislation will need 60 votes to pass.
Throughout the runoffs, Perdue and Loeffler have appealed to Trump’s loyal supporters, including by backing the outgoing president’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. In a climactic event just days before the election, Trump threatened Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger over a phone call to find votes that would overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia.
Loeffler said in a statement Monday that she would oppose the certification of the Electoral College results on Wednesday. The maneuver is expected to fail.
Some GOP strategists worried that Trump’s continued attacks on the integrity of Georgia’s elections could discourage some Republicans from voting on Tuesday.