By BRIAN SLODYSKO Associated Press
Two U.S. Senate runoff elections that together will determine which party controls the legislative chamber for the next two years were held in Georgia on Tuesday.
Early Wednesday, The Associated Press declared Democrat Raphael Warnock the winner of one of the races over appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a contest that will send him to Washington to finish the remainder of retired GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term. The other race between Republican David Perdue, who is seeking a second term, and Democrat Jon Ossoff remained too early to call.
Georgia has become a political focal point since the Nov. 3 general election, when none of the candidates in the state’s two Senate contests earned more than 50 percent of the vote. That forced both races to the Jan. 5 runoff.
Here’s a look at the contests:
WHY THE AP DECLARED WARNOCK THE WINNER
Warnock defeated Loeffler after an analysis of outstanding votes showed there was no way for Loeffler to catch up to him with the remaining ballots left to be counted in Republican-leaning areas.
Warnock held a lead over Loeffler of about 46,500 votes as of 2:15 a.m. ET Wednesday, an edge that is likely to grow as more votes are tabulated.
Almost all the votes left to be counted statewide are mail ballots and early in-person votes. Of those, most are in Democratic-leaning counties.
Warnock was winning mail ballots by 68%, the AP’s analysis found. And most of the early in-person votes left to be counted were in DeKalb County; that method of voting in the county favored Warnock by about 70 percentage points.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER RACE?
The Senate race between Perdue and Ossoff was too early to call.
As of 2:15 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Ossoff had a lead of 9,527 votes out of nearly 4.4 million counted, or a margin of less than 0.2 percentage points.
There were still some mail ballots and in-person early votes left to be counted statewide, the majority of which are in Democratic-leaning counties.
Under Georgia law, a trailing candidate may request a recount when the margin of an election is less than or equal to 0.5 percentage points.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The outcomes of the two races will help determine the country’s political trajectory over the next two years. If Democrats win both, they will have a 50-50 seat split with Republicans in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris poised to cast tie-breaking votes.
That would enable President-elect Joe Biden to enact an ambitious agenda that includes liberal priorities like raising the minimum wage, approving additional economic stimulus to combat the effects of the pandemic and expanding health care.
But Republicans need to carry only one of the seats to hold a slim 51-49 majority that could serve as a conservative bulwark to limit Biden’s ambitions.
The fact that Georgia will determine which of these two dueling visions could become reality speaks to its recent emergence as a swing state. Georgia has been a Republican stronghold for decades, like much of the rest of the South. These two elections are testing just how much the state has changed.
Georgia’s government is dominated by the GOP. A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate contest in the state since former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller in 2000. And until Biden won it by just under 12,000 votes in November, a Democratic presidential contender hadn’t carried the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.
But it has slowly morphed into a battleground — a change driven in part by demographic shifts, particularly in the economically vibrant area of metropolitan Atlanta.
As older, white, Republican-leaning voters die, they’ve been replaced by a younger and more racially diverse cast of people, many of whom moved to the Atlanta area from other states — and carried their politics with them.
Overall, demographic trends show that the state’s electorate is becoming younger and more diverse each year. Like other metro areas, Atlanta’s suburbs have also moved away from Republicans. In 2016, Hillary Clinton flipped both Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Four years later, electoral maps showed a sea of blue in the more than half-dozen counties surrounding Atlanta.
In 2018, Democrat Stacey Abrams galvanized Black voters in her bid to become the country’s first African American woman to lead a state, a campaign she narrowly lost.