Democrats inched closer to taking control of the Senate on Wednesday, winning one of the two Georgia seats up for grabs in a pair of runoff elections while the second contest remained too close to call even as prominent Democrats began declaring victory.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat and the pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, defeated Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, to become the first Black senator in Georgia history and the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate in the South.
In the other contest, David Perdue, the Republican whose Senate term ended on Sunday, was trailing his Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff. Mr. Ossoff’s narrow lead continued to grow on Wednesday; the two were separated by less than half a percentage point with thousands of votes still to be counted, many of them from Democratic-leaning areas.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Ossoff declared victory and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, proclaimed that his party would win the majority.
“It feels like a brand new day,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “For the first time in six years, Democrats will operate a majority in the United States Senate — and that will be very good for the American people.”
Mr. Perdue has not yet conceded.
Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia elections official, said late Wednesday morning that Mr. Ossoff would likely eventually win and do so by a margin large enough to avoid a recount, which is 0.5 percent in Georgia, calling him “senator-to-be, probably.”
Much of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s ability to enact his agenda hangs in the balance. If Democrats win both Georgia races, the party would hold 50 seats in the Senate and de facto control of the chamber, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaking vote and Senator Mitch McConnell relegated to minority leader.
Mr. Biden, who urged patience as votes were tabulated in November, was more cautious than some Democrats on Wednesday, congratulating Mr. Warnock on his victory and saying he was “hopeful that when the count is complete, Jon Ossoff will also be victorious.”
The Republican recrimination began before the results were official.
“It turns out telling voters the election is rigged is not a good way to turn out your voters,” said Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump.
The twin Georgia races drew record levels of campaign spending — roughly half a billion dollars in two months — and national attention, with President Trump and Mr. Biden both campaigning in the state on Monday.
The remaining uncounted vote in Georgia appeared largely to be in the Democratic-leaning Atlanta area, such as DeKalb County, as well as ballots from voters in the military and overseas. The focus on Wednesday morning was on those remaining votes and how they might affect the margins for Mr. Ossoff. The Democrats were winning overwhelming shares of votes in the Atlanta region, especially of mail-in and votes that were cast early.
The Perdue campaign issued a statement after 2 a.m. also predicting victory, while calling for “time and transparency.” The statement suggested that the campaign expected to soon fall behind in the balloting as it promised to “mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted.”
The Georgia results showed both Mr. Warnock and Mr. Ossoff carrying a larger share of the vote in county after county — particularly in majority-Black areas — than Mr. Biden did in November, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992.
“Spitballing here,” wrote Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s incoming chief of staff, on Twitter, “but it may be that telling voters that you intend to ignore their verdict and overturn their votes from the November election was NOT a great closing argument for @KLoeffler.”
He tagged Ms. Loeffler, who on the eve of the election had said she would side with Mr. Trump and his baseless claims of voter fraud in objecting to the certification of Mr. Biden’s victory.
Ms. Loeffler spoke to supporters around midnight, before The Associated Press and other media outlets called the contest, and declined to concede.
Republicans were already seeking explanations for how the party had ceded the White House, the House and likely the Senate during Mr. Trump’s tenure.
“Suburbs, my friends, the suburbs,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and former chief of staff to Mr. McConnell. “I feel like a one trick pony but here we are again. We went from talking about jobs and the economy to Qanon election conspiracies in 4 short years and — as it turns out — they were listening!”
In Cobb County, a populous suburb outside of Atlanta, Mr. Perdue had only 44 percent of the vote, with most of the votes counted; in his first Senate race in 2014, he had carried that same county with more than 55 percent.
Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler had largely sought to nationalize the race, and raise the specter of complete Democratic control of Washington, portraying the party as dangerously radical. But that message was deeply complicated for Republicans by Mr. Trump’s insistence that he did not actually lose.
In the end, about 95 percent of voters in both runoff races said that determining control of the Senate was a “major factor” in their vote, according to A.P. voter surveys, with about three in five calling it “the single most important factor.”
Georgia has about 60,000 votes left to count, the vast majority of them coming from heavily Democratic counties surrounding Atlanta and Savannah, according to Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting systems implementation manager.
Officials involved in the Georgia campaigns believe the counties will begin reporting the results from their outstanding ballots in the early afternoon; Mr. Sterling said the secretary of state’s office has requested they be finished by 1 p.m.
Once one or two of the large counties complete their count, the Democrat Jon Ossoff, who leads David Perdue, his Republican opponent, by just over 17,500 votes, is likely to exceed the margin needed to avoid a recount — typically the trigger that leads major news organizations to declare a winner.
Mr. Ossoff’s margin right now is about 4,500 votes less than the 0.5 percent margin needed to avoid a recount under Georgia law.
The biggest batch of uncounted ballots is in DeKalb County, which began counting the 17,902 that remain at 11:30 a.m. Mr. Ossoff has won 83 percent of the vote counted so far in the county. If he maintains that pace with the outstanding ballots Mr. Ossoff will pad his margin over Mr. Perdue by 11,922 votes.
Other counties with large numbers of outstanding ballots are Henry County (9,078 votes, and Mr. Ossoff has won 61 percent so far), Cobb County (5,896 votes, and Mr. Ossoff has won 56 percent so far), Chatham County (5,318 votes, and Mr. Ossoff has won 59 percent so far), Fulton County (5,294 votes, and Mr. Ossoff has won 72 percent so far) and Gwinnett County (5,068 votes, and Mr. Ossoff has won 60 percent so far).
The largest number of outstanding votes from a county Mr. Perdue carried are from Thomas County in South Georgia. Thomas County has 2,078 votes left to count; Mr. Perdue has won 60 percent of the county’s vote so far.
Mr. Sterling also said the state mailed about 14,000 outstanding overseas and military ballots that have yet to be returned. The number of votes to come from those ballots will be far smaller than 14,000, since many ballots will not be returned by a Friday deadline.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, said Wednesday that his Senate victory over the Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler was the result of a decade of work registering hundreds of thousands of Georgians to vote.
“Welcome to the new Georgia,” he told NPR on Wednesday morning. “It is more diverse, and it is more inclusive, and it readily embraces the future. And I am a product of that.”
Mr. Warnock, 51, will become the first Black senator in Georgia history, and the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate in the South.
“Georgia certainly made me proud last night,” he said. “They decided to send a kid who grew up in public housing to the United States Senate to represent the concerns of ordinary people.”
Shortly before his victory was finalized early on Wednesday, Mr. Warnock, the pastor at the storied Ebenezer Baptist Church, had marveled at his experience compared to that of his mother, who worked in cotton fields as a teenager.
“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 States senator,” he said.
In the NPR interview, Mr. Warnock dismissed the attempt by President Trump and some Republicans to try to challenge the president’s loss in Georgia in November when Congress certifies the Electoral College results on Wednesday. The effort is expected to fail.
“We counted those votes three times,” Mr. Warnock said, referring to Georgia’s recount in the fall. “It is clear, when you look at the swing states all across our country, Joe Biden is the president-elect. Unfortunately, there are enablers of this nonsense in the United States Senate. And that’s why the people who I’m running into all across Georgia are frustrated with politics.”
Mr. Warnock said that once in the Senate, he would support a $2,000 stimulus payment to help people who qualify endure the coronavirus pandemic. “Folks waited for months without getting any relief at all,” he said.
And he said he would focus on shrinking “well-connected corporate interests in our politics.”
“If the people can get their democracy back, we can get the reform that we need around issues of environmental justice, around health care — around a whole range of concerns,” he said.
A top election official in Georgia said he was all but certain that Jon Ossoff, the 33-year-old media executive who mounted an unlikely challenge to a sitting senator, would emerge as the victor against David Perdue.
“Senator to be, probably, Ossoff,” said Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia elections official at a news conference Wednesday morning.
In his briefing, Mr. Sterling said that it also was likely that Mr. Ossoff’s victory would exceed the margin — ½ of 1 percent — that would trigger a recount in Georgia elections.
Mr. Ossoff currently leads Mr. Perdue by more than 17,500 votes following Tuesday’s Senate runoff election, in which more than 4.4 million voters cast ballots, a runoff record in Georgia.
Just over 60,000 votes remain to be counted, with the largest tallies coming from Democratic or Democratic-leaning counties in the Atlanta metro area. Those include DeKalb (17,902 votes); Henry (9,078); Fulton (5,294); and Gwinnett (5,068).
The remaining votes are largely absentee votes that were either delivered by mail or placed in drop boxes during the day on Tuesday, according to Mr. Sterling, who said he expects the bulk of them to be counted by 1 p.m.
During the briefing, Mr. Sterling, a former Republican political operative, said there was no evidence of any irregularities in the Senate election and, once again, expressed frustration with President Trump, whom he accused of sparking a “civil war within a G.O.P. that needed to be united to get through a tough fight like this.”
Democrats exulted on Wednesday morning as they appeared poised to wrest control of the Senate, a feat that would hand them unified control of Congress — albeit by razor-thin margins — as well as the White House.
With the Rev. Raphael Warnock victorious and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff leading in a pair of runoff elections in Georgia, the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, proclaimed on Twitter: “Buckle up!”
“We sure did not take the most direct path to get here, but here we are,” Mr. Schumer said at a celebratory news conference in the Capitol. “For the first time in six years, Democrats will operate a majority in the United States Senate — and that will be very good for the American people.”
Should Mr. Ossoff’s lead over David Perdue hold, twin victories in Georgia would give Democrats 50 seats in the Senate and leave Republicans with the same number, handing Democrats a working majority because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be empowered to break ties.
Mr. Schumer told reporters that he had already spoke to Mr. Biden and Congress’s first order of business would be approve $2,000 direct payments to sent to Americans struggling in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. But he declined to clarify whether Democrats would approve just the checks or seek a large package including other priorities like state and local aid or increased unemployment insurance.
On a conference call with Democrats, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, played the Ray Charles hit “Georgia on My Mind” for ebullient colleagues as they contemplated what their newfound power on the other side of the Capitol would mean as Joseph R. Biden Jr. assumes the presidency.
“We will pursue a science and values-based plan to crush the virus and deliver relief to struggling families, safeguard the right to quality affordable health care and launch a plan to build back better powered by fair economic growth,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
The Georgia victories would be a strong rebuke of President Trump, under whose leadership Republicans lost control of the House, the White House and now the Senate.
“It turns out that telling the voters that the election is rigged is not a great way to turn out your voters,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and his party’s former nominee for president, told reporters in the Capitol. “President Trump has disrespected the American voters, has dishonored the election system and has disgraced the office of the presidency.”
Some of Democrats’ most ambitious priorities could be blocked, however, by the legislative filibuster, which sets a 60-vote threshold for any major initiative. Mr. Schumer batted away questions about a push from the party’s left flank to change the rules to essentially kill the filibuster by lowering the threshold to a simple majority.
“We are united in wanting big, bold change, and we are going to sit down as a caucus and discuss the best ways to get that done,” he said.
With one Democratic victory in Georgia already assured and the other Democratic candidate leading in his bid for the state’s second Senate seat, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Wednesday that he believed Democrats would take control of the Senate, a result that he said signaled a demand for immediate action from the nation’s leaders.
“Georgia’s voters delivered a resounding message yesterday: they want action on the crises we face and they want it right now,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.
Mr. Biden congratulated the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who beat the Republican incumbent, Kelly Loeffler, and said that he believed Jon Ossoff would also be victorious in his race against David Perdue, his Republican challenger. Mr. Ossoff leads by more than 17,000 votes, but the race remains too close to call.
Winning both seats would give Democrats and Republicans each 50 seats in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris having the power to cast tiebreaking votes. In the House, Democrats hold a slim majority.
“I’m pleased that we will be able to work with Speaker Pelosi and a Majority Leader Schumer,” Mr. Biden said, while also pledging again to try and reach a bipartisan consensus on major issues.
At a celebratory news conference in Washington, Mr. Schumer said that Congress’s first order of business would be to approve $2,000 direct payments for Americans struggling in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
He also suggested that Democrats would take advantage of their first Senate majority in six years.
“We are united in wanting big, bold change, and we are going to sit down as a caucus and discuss the best ways to get that done,” he said.
Mr. Biden, in his statement, also thanked Stacey Abrams, who has spent the last decade building a Democratic political infrastructure in Georgia and increasing turnout there among people of color.
The president-elect said that both Ms. Abrams and Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, had “laid the difficult groundwork necessary to encourage turnout and protect the vote over these last years.”
The victory on Wednesday morning by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who becomes the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate from the South, confirmed that Georgia’s metamorphosis from conservative bastion to battleground state was complete. The changing demographics are likely to reshape the political dynamics of this Deep South state for a generation.
Until this week, Republicans held every statewide elective office and majorities in both statehouses. But the upset victory by Mr. Warnock in one runoff race, and the slim lead by Jon Ossoff in the other, coming on the heels of a narrow win by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., showed that Democrats could forge a coalition to win Georgia even when the focus shifted away from removing Donald Trump from office.
Perhaps even more significant, the runoff results showed that Democrats could mobilize their diverse and largely metropolitan voting base to try and boost two overtly liberal candidates — a Jewish man and Black man — to the Senate from Georgia for the first time in history.
“There’s no going back,” said Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Cobb County, a once conservative suburban county where Mr. Biden won in November by a double-digit margin. “A Democrat would be a fool not to play in Georgia going forward.”
From the earliest moments of the Trump era, Georgia emerged as a hotbed of Democratic opposition, attracting national attention and a flood of political spending after Mr. Ossoff announced his run for a House seat two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration. Since then, the state has been caught up in the political upheaval brought by a polarizing president.
In 2018, Gov. Brian Kemp, with the backing of Mr. Trump, won a narrow victory against Stacey Abrams. This week, Mr. Kemp’s name prompted jeers from a Republican audience at a Trump rally after he refused the president’s efforts to overturn millions of votes in the state. Democrats, meanwhile, are celebrating Ms. Abrams as a liberal hero for turning out voters and swinging the state.
Representative Nikema Williams, the state Democratic Party chairwoman who was sworn into Congress this week, said Mr. Biden’s victory gave Democrats, particularly Black voters, confidence that they could win competitive races. And early voting in this week’s runoffs showed that turnout among Black voters increased from November, a notable shift from the drop-off that is typical in runoff races.
“This election was not about Donald Trump,” Ms. Williams said. “This was about people on the ground realizing that if they show up en masse they can overcome the voter suppression and we can win Georgia.”
As Democrats inched closer to flipping both of Georgia’s Senate seats from the incumbent Republicans, credit began to flow to one person broadly acknowledged as being most responsible for Georgia’s new status as a Democratic state: Stacey Abrams.
Ms. Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia state House, has spent a decade building a Democratic political infrastructure in the state, first with her New Georgia Project and now with Fair Fight, the voting rights organization she founded in the wake of her losing campaign for governor in 2018.
Late Tuesday night, Ms. Abrams came close to declaring victory in a tweet that praised the thousands of “organizers, volunteers, canvassers & tireless groups” who helped rebuild the state’s Democratic Party from the rump it was when she became the state House minority leader in 2011.
With new votes joining the tally, we are on a strong path. But even while we wait for more, let’s celebrate the extraordinary organizers, volunteers, canvassers & tireless groups that haven’t stopped going since Nov. Across our state, we roared. A few miles to go…but well done!
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) January 6, 2021
While Ms. Abrams is widely expected to run for governor again in 2022, she is at the moment one of the most influential American politicians not in elected office. It was her political infrastructure and strategy of increasing turnout among the state’s Black, Latino and Asian voters that laid the groundwork for both President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in November and the Democrats’ performance in the Senate races.Ms. Abrams was not alone in Georgia, of course: Numerous other Black women have led a decades-long organizing effort to transform the state’s electorate.
“We weren’t surprised that Georgia turned blue, because we’ve been working on it for over 15 years,” Deborah Scott, the founder of Georgia Stand Up, said after Mr. Biden’s victory in the general election.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” said Felicia Davis, a longtime organizer in Clayton County. “Because here, we’re not just women, we’re Southern women. And we’re not just Southern women, we’re Southern Black women.”
Still, Ms. Abrams was the most visible face at the forefront of the turnout push. And when it came time to cut a TV ad urging Georgians to confirm the status of their absentee ballots — voters have until Friday to cure absentee ballots that contain minor errors — she appeared in the ad reminding them how to do so.
“Don’t wait,” she said. “Your vote has the power to determine the future of Georgia and our country. It’s time to make certain your voice is heard.”
Washington girded for the final act of the Trump presidency on Wednesday, as President Trump, unwilling to acknowledge his loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr., threatened to transform a moment of Democratic triumph into a day of defiance and disruption by summoning his supporters to the Capitol.
But as Mr. Trump spoke in Washington at a rally of his die-hard supporters, vowing never to concede the presidential election and continuing to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification in Congress of President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s victory, it was clear his push was all but certain to fail.
Mr. Pence, who has repeatedly rebuffed the effort, said in a letter to Congress on Wednesday that he did not have the authority to block the results sent by the states.
“It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Mr. Pence wrote.
In his remarks in Washington, Mr. Trump also appeared to acknowledge that the Republican candidates in Georgia, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, had likely lost their races to their Democratic challengers — a result he linked to the baseless claims of voter fraud and rigged machines he has made for months.
“They fought a good race, and they never had a shot,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue, both of whom he said he had spoken to.
The House and the Senate began a joint session to formalize Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory at 1 p.m. A handful of Trump allies have said they will challenge the results, objections that will force both chambers to take a formal vote on whether to accept or reject the results already certified by the states and a process that could stretch into the night.
Shortly before 1:15 p.m., a group of Republican lawmakers objected to Arizona’s electoral votes, which were for Mr. Biden, forcing a debate over that state’s results.
According to his aides, Mr. Trump watched from his residence in the White House on Tuesday night, as the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, both Democrats, pulled ahead in the high-stakes contests that would determine which political party would control the U.S. Senate. He also smarted over a report that Vice President Mike Pence had rebuffed his attempts to block the certification of President-elect Biden’s victory.
A victory by Mr. Ossoff would deliver Democrats control of both the House and the Senate, a staggering loss that many Republicans blame on Mr. Trump’s tardy and tepid efforts on behalf of the incumbent candidates as he instead focused on baseless claims of fraud to explain his loss to Mr. Biden.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump blamed the results in Georgia on state officials who “just happened to find 50,000 ballots,” a claim that Gabriel Sterling, a top election official with Georgia’s secretary of state’s office, dismissed.
“They are not found ballots,” said Gabriel Sterling, a top election official in Georgia, on CNN. “They’re cast ballots.”