WASHINGTON - Democrat Jon Ossoff was declared the projected winner of his U.S. Senate runoff race in the Southern state of Georgia on Wednesday afternoon by The Associated Press.
He joins the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was declared the winner of his Senate race, also in Georgia, earlier Wednesday, giving their Democratic Party control of the U.S. Senate. The Democrats already control the House of Representatives, albeit by a narrower margin than two years ago.
Ossoff becomes the first Jewish senator from Georgia, a former Confederate state. At 33, he will be the youngest sitting U.S. senator. He maintained a tight lead over Republican Sen. David Perdue, whose six-year term expired on Sunday. A former congressional aide and television documentary producer, Ossoff claimed victory early Wednesday before the AP and other news organizations declared him the winner.
His victory gave Democrats full control of Congress, ensuring that President-elect Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers can more easily enact their legislative agenda.
Warnock becomes the first Black U.S. senator from Georgia. He is the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church once led by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Warnock defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a race that was called by Edison Research and The Associated Press early Wednesday after the candidates exchanged leads overnight.
Warnock and Ossoff needed heavy turnout from African American voters, as did Biden two months ago, when his popularity with Black voters and other groups allowed him to capture Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by a margin of almost 12,000 out of 5 million votes cast.
Warnock’s win also crystalizes a years-long political shift in Georgia, where growing numbers of minorities and college-educated residents have helped turn the state from a longtime Republican stronghold into a swing state.
“Georgia is in such an incredible place when you think of the arc of our history,” Warnock said Wednesday on ABC’s Good Morning America news show. “This is the reversal of the old Southern strategy that sought to divide people.”
Biden quickly commended Warnock and Ossoff on Wednesday before Ossoff was declared the winner.
“I congratulate the people of Georgia, who turned out in record numbers once again, just as they did in November, to elect two new senators, demand action, and call on our elected leaders to end the gridlock and move us forward as a nation,” Biden said in a statement.
Going into Tuesday’s voting, Republicans controlled the 100-seat Senate with a 50-48 advantage, needing to win one of the Georgia contests to keep their majority and act as a bulwark against Biden’s legislative proposals after he is inaugurated Jan. 20.
With these victories, Democrats gained a 50-50 partisan split with Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris positioned to cast the tie-breaking votes in the Democrats’ favor.
With Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, Biden will likely offer more sweeping proposals to bolster health care in the United States, tighten environmental controls that were eased during the four-year tenure of Trump and try to make it easier for immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship.
Republican control of the Senate would have made Biden’s political life more difficult and likely forced protracted negotiations between his administration and Republican lawmakers on contentious issues.
The controlling party in the chamber also sets the legislative calendar, determining which issues are voted on while also holding a majority on each of the Senate’s issue-specific committees where potential laws are first considered.
The Perdue-Ossoff and Loeffler-Warnock contests were made necessary because none of the four candidates won a majority in the first round of voting in November.
Voter turnout was robust on Tuesday, with long lines of voters snaking into polling places, and came after nearly 3.1 million people cast ballots before the official Election Day. Five million votes were cast in Georgia in the November balloting that included Biden’s race against President Donald Trump.
Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that he was defrauded out of winning the state, pleading in an extraordinary phone call last weekend with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find him 11,780 more votes — enough to upend the Biden win by a single vote. But Raffensperger, a Republican, rebuffed Trump, saying he was “just plain wrong” in contending he was cheated out of a victory in the state.
Trump continued to make false claims Wednesday, tweeting that Georgia elections officials “just happened to find 50,000 ballots late last night. The USA is embarrassed by fools. Our Election Process is worse than that of third world countries.”
Georgia election official Gabe Sterling dismissed Trump’s claims, declaring Wednesday there was “no evidence of any irregularities” in Tuesday’s election.
“The biggest thing we’ve seen is from the president’s fertile mind of finding fraud where none exists.”
Election Day exit polls conducted by Edison Research indicated about seven in 10 Georgia voters were confident that the votes in Tuesday’s runoff elections would be counted accurately. Democrats were far more confident than Republicans.