Dems Well-Positioned in Georgia Runoffs But Races Still Too Close to Call

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The two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Georgia appear to be on the verge of knocking off their Republican opponents in the state’s all-important runoff elections, but the races were still officially too close to call just after midnight.

Republican incumbent David Perdue was nursing a narrow lead of about 1,000 votes over his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff as election night turned to election morning, but that lead was fading fast.

In the second race, Democrat Raphael Warnock surged ahead of Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler by more than 35,000 votes after a large number of late-counted votes came in from liberal DeKalb County, part of the Atlanta metro area. Democrats were optimistic that most of the votes yet to be counted were coming from liberal strongholds around Atlanta, which would likely make it next to impossible for Loeffler to claw her way back on top, and also difficult for Perdue to hold onto his lead.

Most pundits seemed to agree that it was likely both Democrats would prevail.

Warnock declared victory just before 1 a.m. live on YouTube, saying “I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia.”

“We were told that we couldn’t win this election. But tonight we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible,” said Warnock, who noted he was raised in public housing by his father, a preacher, and his mother, who “used to pick somebody else’s cotton.”

“May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream.”

Loeffler did not concede, telling a crowd of supporters that “every legal vote will be counted.”

“We’ve got some work to do here. This is a game of inches,” she said. “We’re going to win this election. We’re going to save this country.”

The evening started with Ossoff and Warnock taking big leads with the early votes – in-person and absentee ballots – that tended to be tallied first, and ran up the score in the Atlanta metro area, outperforming their efforts in November. But Perdue and Loeffler moved ahead as Election Day and rural ballots were counted. They eventually took and held leads late into the evening. But the Democrats closed the gap when more Atlanta metro votes were counted.

The two races will determine control of the U.S. Senate for at least the next two years.

The Republicans need to win one of the two contests to maintain Senate control, and to serve as a check on incoming President Joe Biden and the Democrats who hold a narrow edge in the House of Representatives.

If Ossoff and Warnock both win, there will be a 50-50 tie in the Senate, which would give Democrats control with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. Democrats would control all elected power in the nation’s capital.

If his lead holds up, Warnock, 51, the senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church – Martin Luther King Jr.’s church — would be Georgia’s first black Senator. Ossoff, 33, the head of London-based television production company, would be the youngest member of the Senate.

Some Republican officials fixed blame for the likely losses on President Donald Trump, who for two months has peddled conspiracy theories that November’s election was “rigged” and stolen from him. For weeks, Republican strategists openly worried that talk like that could cause too many of their voters to stay home, either because they believed the runoffs also would be rigged or to simply punish the state’s Republican establishment. Perdue and Loeffler also may have unwittingly turned off moderates in the suburbs by tying themselves closely to Trump.

Gabriel Sterling, a top Republican election official in Georgia, appeared on CNN and boldly said it would be Trump’s fault if Perdue and Loeffler lost. He accused Trump of misleading voters about November’s election, taking advantage of voter ignorance about the election process, implying that votes don’t count, and starting a civil war in the Republican Party.

“He keeps on persisting on making these false claims,” Sterling said of Trump.

Democrats have been eager to flex their muscles in these runoffs after Joe Biden narrowly pulled out a victory in the state in November – putting Georgia in the Democratic column for the first time in a presidential race since 1992.

Georgia has been trending toward the Democrats for years, with the Atlanta metro area booming with affluent and college-educated voters. But despite Biden’s breakthrough in November, there was still evidence that the runoffs were the Republicans’ to lose.

The Democrats in both Senate races underperformed Biden in November by about 100,000 votes each.

Perdue, 71, a corporate turnaround specialist, ran slightly ahead of Trump in November, and received almost 90,000 more votes than Ossoff. Perdue was only about 13,000 votes shy of winning a majority of votes needed to avoid the runoff altogether.

There were 20 candidates running in the second Senate race in November, a special election to fill Republican Senator Johnny Isakson’s seat after he stepped down for health reasons. Loeffler, 50, an Atlanta businesswoman who was appointed to fill the seat in December 2019, was one of six Republicans in that race. Together, they received about 50,000 more votes than the eight Democrats. Warnock was the top vote-getter in November, followed by Loeffler.

Heading into the runoffs, the Republicans had the advantage of a proven and built up ground game that they deployed during the general election to maintain control of the state’s general assembly. Republicans also had an unblemished history of winning statewide runoffs in Georgia.

With so much riding on the outcome, the Georgia races drew intense national attention and loads of money. They now are the most expensive congressional elections ever, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the race pitting Perdue against Osoff, the candidates and outside groups spent almost $470 million through Monday, while the race between Loeffler and Warnock cost about $363 million.

Throughout the campaigns, the Republicans painted their Democratic opponents as dangerous radicals who want to impose socialism on the country, defund police departments, get rid of private health insurance, and implement the Green New Deal.

“The future of the country is on the ballot,” Loeffler told supporters at a campaign stop last week. “The entire country is counting on us.”

The Democrats painted the Republicans as rich and out of touch executives who’ve used their positions of power mostly to enrich themselves. They accused both Republicans of engaging in insider trading at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, though a Justice Department investigation was closed with no charges filed. Ossoff called Perdue a “crook,” and falsely accused Loeffler of campaigning with a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Both Biden and Trump traveled to Georgia on Monday to campaign for their respective tickets.

Republicans were hoping Trump’s visit would drive enough rural voters to the polls to overtake the Democrats’ advantage in the metro areas. Trump likely didn’t help matters when audio surfaced over the weekend from a phone call where he told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that he wanted to find more than 11,000 votes to reverse his loss in the state.

“The Democrats are trying to steal the White House,” Trump said at Monday’s rally. “You can’t let them steal the U.S. Senate. … David and Kelly are running against the most extreme liberal candidates in the history of your state.”

Ultimately, it may have been too little, too late.

If both Ossoff and Warnock win, it is likely that Democrats will try to increase federal revenues by raising corporate taxes and increasing tax rates on higher-earning families.

While a single-payer health care system will likely be a stretch with such narrow Democratic majorities in Congress and intra-party squabbles, both Ossoff and Warnock have spoken favorably of strengthening the Affordable Care Act and including a public option.

Congress will be increasingly hostile to gun rights. Ossoff supports banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles, and believes anyone who wants to purchase “high-powered weapons derived from modern military technology should be required to demonstrate high qualification and specific needs.” Warnock has been critical of gun rights in sermons.

Pro-lifers fear that Democrats may scrap the so-called Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for most abortions. Both Ossoff and Warnock support abortion rights. Warnock drew scrutiny from some Christian leaders when he declared himself a “pro-choice pastor.”

Before the November election, in the lead-up to the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court confirmation fight, some Democrats called for retaliatory measures, including packing the court with liberal justices. Warnock has refused to say if he would support packing the Supreme Court with progressive justices. During an early December debate, he would only say he’s “really not focused on it.” Ossoff has said he opposes court packing schemes.