ATLANTA Georgia (AP) — Democrat Raphael Warnock won one of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs Wednesday, becoming the first Black senator in his state’s history and putting the Senate majority within the party’s reach.
A pastor who spent the past 15 years leading the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, Warnock defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. It was a stinging rebuke of outgoing President Donald Trump, who made one of his final trips in office to Georgia to rally his loyal base behind Loeffler and the Republican running for the other seat, David Perdue.
Warnock said Wednesday he hadn’t yet heard from Loeffler but told CBS “This Morning” “I’m hearing from the people of Georgia. People are feeling a sense of hope this morning.”
He noted that he grew up in public housing as one of 12 children and was his family’s first college graduate. “That I am serving in the United States Senate in a few days pushes against the grain of so many expectations but this is America and I want some young person who’s watching this to know anything’s possible.”
“Georgia is in such an incredible place when you think of the arc of our history,” Warnock told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He added: “This is the reversal of the old southern strategy that sought to divide people.”
The focus now shifts to the second race between Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. Early Wednesday, Ossoff claimed victory, but the candidates were locked in a tight race and it was too early to call a winner.
“This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state — for all the people of this state,” Ossoff said in a speech broadcast on social media Wednesday morning. “Whether you were for me, or against me, I’ll be for you in the U.S. Senate. I will serve all the people of the state.”
Under Georgia law, a trailing candidate may request a recount when the margin of an election is less than or equal to 0.5 percentage points.
If Ossoff wins, Democrats will have complete control of Congress, strengthening President-elect Joe Biden’s standing as he prepares to take office on Jan. 20.
Warnock’s victory is a symbol of a striking shift in Georgia’s politics as the swelling number of diverse, college-educated voters flex their power in the heart of the Deep South. It follows Biden’s victory in November, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992.
Warnock, 51, acknowledged his improbable victory in a message to supporters early Wednesday, citing his family’s experience with poverty. His mother, he said, used to pick “somebody else’s cotton” as a teenager.
“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said. “Tonight, we proved with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”
The Associated Press declared Warnock the winner after an analysis of outstanding votes showed there was no way for Loeffler to catch up to his lead. Warnock’s edge is likely to grow as more ballots are counted, many of which were in Democratic-leaning areas.
Loeffler refused to concede in a brief message to supporters shortly after midnight.