When the polls closed for the general election on November 3, it took 10 days for Georgia to be called for president-elect Joe Biden. And with that exhausting trudge in our rear-view, returns for the January 5 runoff seemed to come in like a tidal wave once the polls closed at 7 p.m. By 9 p.m., about 40 percent state’s votes had been counted. By midnight, 97 percent of Georgia counties had been tabulated, with Democrat Raphael Warnock firmly ahead of incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue less than 2,000 votes ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff.
A much shorter ballot and lower overall turnout was partially responsible for the faster count, but unlike in the general election, counties were required this time around begin processing absentee ballots in eight days prior to election day.
This was a relief, of course, for Americans anxiously watching the returns for the pivotal runoff. If either Loeffler or Perdue won, Republicans would keep control of the U.S. Senate. But a victory for both Warnock and Ossoff would lead to a 50-50 split for Senate control. With Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker, the Democrats would gain control of the Senate.
Just before 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Loeffler spoke to supporters gathered in Buckhead, telling them, “We have a path to victory, and we are going to stay on it.” But a few minutes later, Warnock delivered a victory speech via YouTube, thanking his supporters, his campaign staff, and his family “from the bottom of my heart.” He vowed to “work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for.”
“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,” Warnock said. “May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold to the American dream.”
The race was called for Warnock at about 2 a.m. Wednesday and as of noon Thursday, he was ahead by more than 74,000 votes. The senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Warnock is the first Black U.S. Senator from Georgia—or any Southern state—and will be only the 11th Black person to serve in the U.S. Senate.
The race for Perdue’s seat, meanwhile, was much closer. Just after 2 a.m. Wednesday, Perdue team’s released a statement, saying, “We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”
But at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Ossoff, who had been ahead in the votes since the early hours of the morning, delivered his victory speech, thanking voters immediately addressing the Covid-19 pandemic: “Let’s unite now to beat this virus and rush economic relief to the people of our state and to the American people.”
“This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state,” Ossoff said, “and they will be my guiding principle as I serve this state in the U.S. Senate, ensuring that every Georgian has great healthcare, no matter our wealth. Ensuring that we invest in an economic recovery that includes all communities, that rebuilds our state’s infrastructure, that lays the foundations for prosperity in rural Georgia, suburban communities, and urban communities alike. And securing equal justice for all, following in the footsteps of leaders who have departed us in this last year like Congressman John Lewis and C.T. Vivian.”
As ballot counting continued across the state on Wednesday, Ossoff was projected as the winner at about 4 p.m. As of noon Thursday, he is ahead by more than 36,000 votes. At 33 years old, he will be the youngest U.S. Senator elected since Biden was won his seat in 1973 at age 30. He will also be Georgia’s first Jewish U.S. Senator.
And as the race for who will be the District 4 Public Service Commissioner, (yes, there really was more on the ballot than just Senate battle), Republican incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald is the projected winner over Democrat Daniel Blackman, with a nearly 68,000 vote lead.
This story was originally published on January 6 and was updated at 1 p.m. January 7 with news that Ossoff was the projected winner.