On January 20, 2021, the day President Joe Biden is inaugurated, there is a very good chance Democrats hold 50 seats in the U.S. Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris on hand to cast a tie-breaking vote. Rev. Raphael Warnock has officially unseated incumbent appointee Sen. Kelly Loeffler to become the first black American ever elected to statewide office in Georgia and only the eleventh black senator in U.S. history. Jon Ossoff appears poised to narrowly defeat first-term Sen. David Perdue in a race that remains too close to call.
“My mother, who was a teenager growing up in Waycross, Georgia, used to pick somebody’s else’s cotton,” Warnock told supporters early on Wednesday morning. “But the other day, because this is America, 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 State senator.”
Warnock, who grew up in public housing in Savannah and rose to become the reverend of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, triumphed in his first-ever election despite a fusillade of racist attack ads financed by outside GOP groups. On election night, he called for end to the divisive politics that have characterize the Trump era. “We all have a choice to make,” Warnock said, “Will we continue to divide, distract and dishonor one another or will we love our neighbors as we love ourselves? 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?”
Meanwhile Jon Ossoff, who ran and lost in the first special election of the Trump era, appears close to triumphing in the last. If declared the winner, Ossoff will be the first Jewish senator ever elected by the state of Georgia, and the first Jewish senator from the South since the 19th century. He will also be the youngest Democratic senator elected since a whippersnapper from Wilmington, Delaware — Joseph Robinette Biden — took the oath of office back in 1973.
So, how did it all happen? Record-shattering turnout in an off-year election propelled Democrats to at least one, possibly two victories. In many Georgia counties, turnout came close to matching the numbers seen in November’s general election — a highly unusual circumstance for the type of race in which turnout often tanks by as much as 90 percent in Georgia. Democrats over-performed Joe Biden’s November results in many parts of the state, while the Republican candidates fell just shy of Donald Trump’s numbers. Black voters showed up in force for Warnock and Ossoff, while Loeffler failed to attract the suburban voters Brian Kemp hoped she might draw when he installed her in the seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson less than a year ago.
Democrats will now wait until all the votes are counted to see if Ossoff will end up outside the .5 percent threshold needed to avoid a recount. The stakes are high: the pair of victories would deliver Democrats the coveted legislative trifecta — control of the House, Senate and White House — and, with it, the chance to confirm a new slate of federal judges, approve a cabinet of Biden’s choosing, a more robust coronavirus relief package, and much more.
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