Jon Ossoff wins Georgia runoff race, Democrats take Senate control

Jenny Jarvie and Janet Hook

Jenny Jarvie and Janet Hook

Los Angeles Times

Jon Ossoff was declared the winner of a runoff election against Republican David Perdue on Wednesday, handing Democrats control of the Senate and giving President-elect Joe Biden a major early victory that will improve his chances of getting his legislative agenda and nominations through Congress.

Raphael Warnock had already emerged victorious in the other Georgia runoff. In the early morning hours of Wednesday, he defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler, according to projections by The Associated Press.

That gives Democrats the two victories they needed to secure a 50-50 tie in the Senate. With Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote, the twin Georgia victories deliver Senate control to the Democrats.

Both men make history: Warnock will be Georgia’s first Black senator while Ossoff will be Georgia’s first Jewish senator, as well as the first Jewish senator elected from any Deep South state since Reconstruction.

Democrats’ twin victories delivered a crushing defeat to Republicans, stripping them of their main bastion of power in the post-Trump capital.

It was also a parting blow to President Donald Trump, who lost the state to Biden in November and has been at war with its Republican governor and secretary of state ever since over their refusal to go along with his groundless claims of vote fraud. Trump traveled twice to the state to campaign for the GOP senators, including a rally on election eve.

The results also solidified Georgia’s status as a battleground state, the result of rapid growth in the state’s Black voter population, a shift to the Democrats among voters of all races in Atlanta’s booming suburbs, and the massive work of grassroots mobilization groups in registering voters and encouraging them to the polls.

With Ossoff’s lead over Perdue now nearly 25,000 votes, AP and television networks declared the Democrat the victor late Wednesday afternoon.

“It is with humility that I thank the people of Georgia for electing me to serve in the U.S. Senate,” Ossoff said in a video released Wednesday morning, as his margin of victory expanded over Perdue, whose Senate term expired Sunday.

Final votes were still being counted. But Republicans were pessimistic, with most of the remaining uncounted ballots coming from the Atlanta and Savannah regions — areas where Democrats have piled up significant majorities.

At a morning news conference, Gabriel Sterling, one of Georgia’s top elections officials, had predicted Ossoff would likely win by more than 0.5%, the margin required by Georgia law to avoid a recount.

Sterling, a lifelong Republican, was clear on who he blamed for low GOP turnout: “President Donald J. Trump.”

“When you say your vote doesn’t count … you spark a civil war within a GOP that needed to be united to get through a tough fight like this in a state that has been trending, from the point of view of Republicans, the other direction for years now,” he said.

Indeed, Many Georgia Republicans appeared ready for a reckoning.

Erick Erickson, a conservative radio talk-show host based in Macon, took to his radio show Wednesday morning to criticize Trump and Georgia Republicans who had backed the president’s barrage of unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

“Donald Trump toured the state telling everyone the race was stolen, the fix was in,” Erickson said. “The president of the United States literally stood on stage in Dalton, Georgia, on Monday night and told Republican voters: ‘The decks are stacked against you, they’re cheating and stealing it. Go vote anyway!’ Well, those voters didn’t go vote.”

Erickson called on David Shafer, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, to resign.

“He never mounted a ground game. He was too busy telling Republicans the race was stolen in November and the Republican secretary of state was an idiot,” he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, celebrated their success in going beyond holding together the coalition that delivered victory in Georgia for President-elect Joe Biden in November. Both Warnock and Ossoff were leading their GOP rivals by more votes than Biden’s margin over Trump — thanks in large part to strong turnout among Black voters.

Representatives from each of Gwinnett County’s 156 precincts wait patiently in order to turn in their election materials on Jan. 5, 2021 in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Many commented that voter turnout exceeded on the Runoff Election Day exceeded that of the turnout for the November General Election. (Sue Dorfman/Zuma Press/TNS)

Representatives from each of Gwinnett County’s 156 precincts wait patiently in order to turn in their election materials on Jan. 5, 2021 in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Many commented that voter turnout exceeded on the Runoff Election Day exceeded that of the turnout for the November General Election. (Sue Dorfman/Zuma Press/TNS)

“Once again, the nation is realizing what we have known all along: Georgia is a battleground state thanks to the relentless work done toward investing in and turning out voters of color,” Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, said in a statement.

“Through Rev. Warnock, voters of color and progressive white voters brought us this much closer to the bold vision for justice and equality we have been organizing for through the years. We are undoing a history of voter suppression and injustice in Black and Brown communities. The changes we are seeing now didn’t happen overnight, and we are not solving our challenges with just one vote.”

Even before Ossoff declared victory, Republicans were already beginning to blame Trump for the party’s poor performance, saying his futile, baseless effort to overturn his own loss in November bitterly divided the party and undercut its candidates in Georgia, who were trying to portray a continued GOP Senate majority as a firewall against Democratic power.

“The president effectively eliminated the most potent Republican argument by refusing to acknowledge he lost in November,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP strategist close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Holmes, who described the mood of the GOP now as “boiling,” said Republicans’ embrace of Trump-era conspiracy theories had especially hurt the party among suburban voters.

In his autopsy of Republicans’ loss, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker from Georgia, credited Stacey Abrams’ “remarkable” ground game, urging Republicans to “study her and what she has achieved, and figure out how to match or overmatch it.” He also blamed Republicans’ distraction by the civil war between Trump and Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the failure of the campaigns to capitalize on Trump’s success with Latino voters and the bombardment of negative ads.

“These two races were winnable,” he concluded. “But all too many of the participants, supporters, and major players had agendas that put the GOP victory at risk. The result is a nightmare from which we will spend years recovering.”

Bernard L. Fraga, a political scientist at Emory University, tweeted that it was likely that more Black voters cast ballots in the runoff than in the presidential election, a remarkable reversal of the typical drop in Black turnout in such contests. Overall turnout is likely to come in at just under 90% of what it was in November.

“VICTORY in Georgia must lead to transformative change across America!” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Twitter. “Recurring survival checks, union jobs that pay a living wage, guaranteed health care, racial justice, voting rights, immigration reform, climate action, repro justice, education, and MUCH more.”

The level of government aid to Americans hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic was among the curveballs Trump threw at the Republican candidates in Georgia. The president made an eleventh-hour pitch to increase to $2,000 the $600 checks to individuals that Congress was going to approve as part of COVID-19 relief legislation.

The GOP-controlled Senate rejected that idea, even though Perdue and Loeffler backed the increase. Biden, speaking in Georgia on Monday, seized on the issue by promising to provide $2,000 if Democrats won control of the Senate.

Rick Tyler, a Trump critic who was a political adviser to Gingrich, said: “You would have to credit President Trump with completing his trifecta of losing the House, the White House and now the Senate. Will the Republican Party ever wake up?”

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