Democrats take control of US Senate after double win in Georgia

Victory in crucial run-off elections a huge boost to Joe Biden as he prepares to assume presidency

The Democrats are within touching distance of gaining control of the US Senate after Raphael Warnock won his runoff election in Georgia against Republican senator Kelly Loeffler. Video: Reuters

 

The Democrat Party has taken control of the US Senate – and Congress overall – after winning a pair of run-off election races in Georgia.

With 98 per cent of the vote counted, Baptist preacher Raphael Warnock defeated his Republican opponent Kelly Loeffler, becoming the first black person to represent Georgia in the US Senate.

And late on Wednesday Jon Ossoff was declared the winner of his contest against sitting Republican David Perdue.  

The 33-year-old becomes the youngest US senator since Joe Biden was elected in 1973.

Describing his upbringing in Georgia, Mr Warnock said “the improbable journey that led me to this place. . . could only happen here. We were told we couldn’t win that election, but tonight we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side anything is possible.”

His mother, who once picked cotton, would be proud to see his son being sworn in, he said.

“Welcome to the new Georgia,” he told radio station NPR on Wednesday.  “It is more diverse, and it is more inclusive, and it readily embraces the future. And I am a product of that.”

Wednesday’s chaotic scenes in Washington, where protesters stormed the US Capitol as members of Congress met to certify the presidential election results, overshadowed the Georgia count as Democrats waited in hope throughout the day for a final result.

With confirmation of Mr Ossoff’s win, Democrats will control 50 seats in the 100-member senate, giving the party an effective majority because incoming vice-president Kamala Harris can cast the tie-breaking vote.

This means Democrats will control both houses of Congress and the White House – a huge boost to Joe Biden as he prepares to assume the presidency.  

Turnout on Tuesday was lower than in November’s election, but was much higher than usual for run-off state elections. Approximately 4.3 million people voted, compared to five million in November.

The run-off races were triggered in November after no candidate reached the 50 per cent threshold needed in the November 3rd contests.

Georgia has found itself in the firing line since that election, with Donald Trump disputing the results of the presidential election in the state, which was narrowly won by Mr Biden. On Saturday, the president attempted to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state and officials to “find” extra votes to swing November’s election in his favour.

On Tuesday, those same election officials oversaw the Senate run-off races, which were conducted smoothly.

Swing state

With indications pointing to a Democratic win, it appeared the party may have broadly replicated Mr Biden’s success in November, when he became the first Democratic candidate in three decades to win the southern state, albeit by a small margin of less than 12,000 votes.

Once again, a strong performance in Atlanta and its suburbs, as well as Chatham County surrounding Savannah, appeared to offset support for the two Republican candidates in more rural areas.

The two Democratic challengers also ran up slightly larger margins in Democrat-leaning counties than Joe Biden in November. For example, in Richmond County, home to Augusta, Mr Warnock and Mr Ossoff won by about 40 points, compared to Biden’s 36 points two months ago.

The closeness of Tuesday night count cements Georgia’s status as a swing state. Traditionally Republican-leaning, the state has witnessed an influx of new residents in recent years, while local officials such as gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams have successfully increased voter registration among the state’s African-American population.

Mr Ossoff, a film-maker, and Mr Warnock, a pastor at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King jnr once preached, were seen at the outset as having an outside chance at dislodging the two Republican incumbents, though polls had tightened in recent weeks. Ultimately, the race was extremely tight, with some Republicans voicing concern that Mr Trump’s attacks on the electoral system may have depressed Republican turnout.

Georgia election official, Gabriel Sterling – himself a Republican – blamed Mr Trump in part for the party’s disappointing performance.

“While the Republicans were busy attacking the governor and my boss, the Democrats were out there knocking on doors and getting people out there to vote,” he said.

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