History was made in Georgia on Tuesday night, as Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both pulled off stunning upsets over the state’s Republican Senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. With their victories, Chuck Schumer is on track to become to new Senate Majority Leader, as the Senate will now be tied at 50/50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in a position to cast tie-breaking votes.
Democrats heavily targeted both seats after November saw Joe Biden become the first Democrat to win the Peach State since Bill Clinton in 1992. Both races saw unbelievable amounts of outside spending and attracted lots of political heavyweights to the state. The final day of the campaign saw outgoing President Donald Trump campaign for both Republican Senators, while President-elect Joe Biden attended a drive-in rally for both of the Democratic candidates.
Perdue, 71, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, fell just shy of winning a second term outright in November, pulling 49.7% of the vote while Ossoff garnered about 48%. A Libertarian candidate, Shane Hazel, got about 2% of the vote. Georgia law requires that a winning candidate receive >50% of the vote in order to win the race outright, or the race will go to a runoff. He caught national attention in October when he appeared to mock Kamala Harris’ name at a Trump rally. Though his communications team said that he “didn’t mean anything by it,” the blunder turned into a major fundraising boost for Ossoff’s campaign.
Perdue lost re-election on Tuesday night, according to our projections, with outstanding votes located in solidly blue counties such as DeKalb and Fulton adding to Ossoff’s lead. With his victory, Ossoff, 33, will become the Senate’s youngest member and the youngest Democrat to be elected to the Senate since none other than Joe Biden, who was 29 years old when he was elected in 1972. A documentary filmmaker, Ossoff used to work in the office of Congressman John Lewis and has called the late civil rights pioneer a “mentor.” Ossoff is no stranger to high-profile elections. In 2017, he was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. He raised a record-breaking $30 million but narrowly fell short to Republican Karen Handel, who went on to lose herself in the 2018 election.
The special election was a battle between two political novices. Senator Kelly Loeffler was appointed in 2019 by Gov. Brian Kemp after longtime Sen. Johnny Isakson decided to step down due to his declining health. A wealthy financial executive, the 50-year-old Loeffler co-owns Atlanta’s WNBA team and is married to the President of the New York Stock Exchange. Her appointment was met with criticism from Tea Party activists, and even President Trump himself. They had questions about her conservative credentials and attempted to talk the Governor into appointing Rep. Doug Collins to the seat. But Kemp decided to stick with Loeffler, thinking that she would help the Republican Party win back college-educated and suburban white women, a demographic that the party has struggled with in the Trump era. But once Collins announced that he would run for the seat anyway, she attempted to campaign to his right, at one time running an ad saying that she was “more conservative than Attila the Hun.”
A jungle primary format was used in the special election. Nearly two dozen candidates competed on the same ballot. Given the number of candidates, a runoff seemed unavoidable. Warnock finished first with about 33%, followed by Loeffler’s 26% and Collins’ 20%.
Warnock, 51, holds the pulpit at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. first began preaching many years ago. He also has a history of political activism, from participating in Medicaid expansion protests and overseeing a voting rights organization. His victory makes him the first Black Senator in Georgia history, as well as the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate from the Deep South. It’s quite the turnaround for Warnock, who polled as low as 9% in a Monmouth poll over the summer. But he gained steam late in the race with a surge in fundraising, a TV ad blitz and an endorsement from former President Barack Obama.
Both Democratic candidates hammered their Republican rivals for making stock transactions after receiving a classified coronavirus briefing. On the campaign trail, Ossoff would often refer to the two incumbents as “the Bonnie and Clyde of corruption.” Both Senators were thoroughly investigated but no wrongdoings were found. Republicans attacked Warnock and Ossoff as “rubber stamps” for Washington Democrats such as Pelosi and Schumer. Loeffler attacked Warnock’s old sermons and criticized him for “praising Marxism.” Perdue attacked Ossoff’s lack of experience and raised questions about his film company’s ties to China.
Democrats went into the Georgia runoffs needing to flip both seats in Georgia to take control of the Senate. Republicans did better than initially expected on the Senate map in November, winning competitive races in Maine, Iowa and North Carolina. But with Democrats’ victories in Georgia, they have won a trifecta in Washington for the first time since 2008. It’s a major win for President-elect Joe Biden, who will now be able to pass his legislative agenda without Mitch McConnell controlling the floor of the Senate. A 50/50 Senate will be difficult for any President to navigate, but it gives Biden the boost he needs to confirm his cabinet, judicial nominees and other big legislative priorities in the first two years if his administration.
This post was updated to correct the age of David Perdue.