Warnock, Ossoff win Georgia runoffs; Democrats take control of U.S. Senate

MSR News Online/ (l-r) Rev. Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff

In a historic upset, Democratic candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff haved flipped Georgia, defeating incumbent Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to give Democrats a majority in the U.S. Senate.

With his win, Senator-elect Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served and John Lewis worshipped, will become Georgia’s first African American senator. He is also the first Georgia Democrat elected to the Senate in 20 years. His race was called late Tuesday night.

In his live-streamed address declaring victory, Warnock gave a tribute to this mother, stating, “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. The improbable journey that led me to this place in this historic moment in America could only happen here.”

Ossoff’s race was called late Wednesday evening. He will become the first Jewish senator elected from the Deep South.  At 33, he will also be the youngest Democrat in the Senate since President-elect Joe Biden in 1973.

The results of Georgia’s runoff races confirm that Biden’s slim win in November was no fluke. In almost every county, Warnock out-performed Biden. Georgia’s increasingly diverse population has turned the state from reliably red to blue this election cycle.

Underscoring the high stakes of the race, a record 4.4 million voters turned out to cast their ballots, with African American voters overperforming in Democratic strongholds, and once again sending the party’s ticket to victory. Younger voters, a notoriously unreliable voting bloc, also turned out in strong numbers. Over 281,000 voters under 30 cast ballots in the runoffs during early voting, a number comparable to the turnout of young voters in the 2020 November elections.

It was called a long shot by some political pundits, as Democrats had historically underperformed against Republicans in runoff races. But the Democratic ticket prevailed due to years of grassroots organizing and voter registration drives by former state House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams and her Fair Fight campaign, LaTosha Brown of Black Votes Matters, Nse Ufot of the New Georgia Project, and countless others on the ground in Georgia. “Next year, Georgia will be the premier battleground state in the country,” Abrams wrote in her book “Fair Fight” in 2019. She couldn’t have been more right.

The hotly contested race saw leaders in both parties visit the state, with President-elect Biden and President Trump campaigning in “the Peach State” the final days of the race. Political analysts have long speculated that Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential race, and his accusations of widespread voter fraud in states he lost, have only harmed the Republican ticket by dampening voter enthusiasm and confidence in the system among GOP voters in Georgia.

Also, complicating matters was Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s blocking $2,000 checks for Americans in desperate need of pandemic relief. Both Ossoff and Warnock have vowed to vote for the relief payments.  

In addition to the relief checks, when asked what his priorities will be as a senator, Warnock, speaking with CNN on Wednesday morning, said he wants to work to improve the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which thus far has only issued 4.8 million vaccinations—falling well short of the 20 million vaccinations promised by the Trump administration. He also expressed a desire to put the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act up for a vote.